The goal of FOCOM (Food and Cognition Model systems) is to design novel test setups that can help us to understand how food and brain influence each other. One of these is a “virtual shop simulator”, which allows a consumer to navigate through a virtual supermarket while his behavior, physiology and brain responses are captured. A translation will be made from a clinical fMRI environment to a more relevant test environment in which eye movement and brain responses such as EEG and NIRS (near-infrared spectrography) can be measured. The technique is being used to investigate why consumers like or dislike certain products, and how the choice and purchase process works. Special attention will be paid to the influence of the design of product packaging on choice behavior.
FOCOM will also address what happens in the brain during eating. Which ingredients contribute to a positive experience of a food product? Does a low-energy or low-salt product lead to the same satisfaction? Knowledge of these factors can help food companies to understand the effect of product attributes in an early stage of development, and thus enhance the process of product development and market introduction, thereby reducing development costs and shortening time to market. Possibly, the new technology will also support early diagnosis, better understanding and treatment of obesity, eating disorders, and age-related diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson.
The combination of scientific knowledge and product development in the food industry and healthcare will give an important impulse to food, health, and technology. For example, applications to promote a healthy lifestyle and eating pattern can be developed. Furthermore, the consortium will explore ways to more precisely predict product perception and choice behavior. The results will be of benefit to the food industry, consumer scientists, hospitals and healthcare organizations.
The FOCOM project is financially supported by the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRO), the province of Gelderland and the national government, and has a total budget of € 8.4 million.
The FOCOM consortium is a truly multidisciplinary partnership, bringing together knowledge of brain and cognition, food and nutrition, product packaging, virtual reality, consumer behavior and physiology, software engineering and system integration. Partners in the project are:
- Radboud University Nijmegen (Donders Center of Cognitive Neuroscience),
- Wageningen University (Human Nutrition; Marketing and Consumer Behavior),
- University of Twente (Packaging Design and Management),
- Noldus Information Technology,
- Green Dino,
- TMS International,
- Artinis Medical Systems,
- H.J. Heinz,
- NIZO Food Research and Essensor.