An Introduction to Eating Styles: Your Questions Answered
Understanding how consumers enjoy their food and their texture preferences can help companies influence consumer buying decisions, according to one of our texture experts, Severine Bensa,.
Here, Severine talks about the research carried out into consumer eating styles and how it can help food companies to market their products.
- What research has been done into eating styles?
Everyone likes eating their food in different ways, and we can examine their eating style for a greater insight into how this influences their food choices and texture preferences. The ‘Mouth Behaviour’ model is what we use for understanding consumer textural food choice.
Research from the Understand and Insights Group (U & I) in 2012-13 found that people fall into four major Mouth Behaviour categories. That means you are likely to enjoy your food a bit differently depending on your Mouth Behaviour type.
Your type is determined by which food and textures you choose, how food is manipulated in certain ways in the mouth and which foods you find more satisfying than others.
The four categories – crunchers, chewers, smooshers or suckers – are technically called ‘Mouth Behaviour types’ in the U & I research.
Ingredion built upon this research, extending it to include emotional drivers, consumer research and other sensory analysis to define the four ‘eating styles’ more clearly.
- How was the research for this ‘Mouth Behaviour’ model carried out? Is it accurate?
Over the past few years, Ingredion has followed up the research carried out by U & I with several Mouth Behaviour studies. This includes 10-12 qualitative studies, consisting of several quantitative surveys consumers across the globe.
The results of our workshops and surveys show a clear pattern – people use language which is consistent with their Mouth Behaviour type. Each set of consumers within each profile, uses similar language to describe what they like and don’t like about a product.
We asked each consumer group to describe the textures they were experiencing during the full eating experience and whether each texture attribute was appealing or not. This also gives us an insight into ‘beyond the bite experience’, which is essentially the latter part of the eating experience.
- Does this research show that texture is just as important to consumers as taste or flavour?
A considerable amount of work has been done in this area and we’ve found that, while flavour might draw people to a product initially, taste is what really drives repeat business. That means that texture has a huge impact on consumers liking or disliking of a product.
Back in 2014 as a result of her research, Dr. Elizabeth Sloan at Sloan Trends Incorporated suggested that ‘Texture’ would be the next megatrend in food and beverage product development.
Foods and beverages which lack in texture are uninspiring, especially to consumers who are becoming more adventuresome and expanding their horizons in the culinary world.
For this reason product designers are now striving to create products with the desired creaminess or smoothness or to optimise the bite of crispy, crunchy foods.
- What are the different Mouth Behaviour groups?
The four main categories are: Chewers, crunchers, smooshers and suckers.
Crunchers and Chewers use their teeth to break down foods, while Smooshers and Suckers prefer to manipulate it between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. “Chewers”, which usually account for around 30-40% of the population, enjoy the prolonged chewing action involved in eating, for example a soft cookie.
“Crunchers”, also between 30% and 40% of the population, favour the sound and force of a bite, such as a hard granola bar.
“Smooshers,” at around 10-20%, are into the smooth and creamy feeling, whether from a sweet dessert or mashed potatoes.
And “suckers,” at 5-10%, prefer foods they can suck on such as hard candies, and will generally take longer to eat their food.
Across the consumers involved in our studies and surveys, the language used by the product preferences of each mouth behaviour group were very consistent which gives us much confidence in the research.
- Why is it useful for food companies to understand these groups?
Consumers generally have low texture awareness and a limited ability to verbalise or determine textural characteristics, even though it very important to them subconsciously.
By understanding Mouth Behaviour, food companies can improve the appeal of their products so consumers are more likely to repeat purchase.
- Are the groups universal around the world?
In Western Europe and North America – where the majority of our studies have been focused – the Chewers and Crunchers far outnumber smooshers and suckers.
Each country differs slightly, but our research, combined with the research carried out by Takasago International Corporation (USA), confirms this.
- How do the groups differ in different countries?
There are many similarities in terms of demographics in the countries we’ve carried out research in.
According to U & I research, in the UK crunchers are the most common group at 34% with chewers closely behind at 33%,
In Germany and France, chewers are more common, closely followed by crunchers. It’s helpful for food companies to understand the split in their particular market, so that they can create products that are targeted at a particular eating style, or create front of pack claims that will attract a certain group.
- How does Mouth Behaviour affect the way consumers enjoy specific types of food, like yoghurt or crisps?
All of us, regardless of food type, will try and make that specific product work for them. A cruncher, for example, might stack multiple crisps at once to make a bigger crunching sound.
Chewers usually prefer thicker yoghurts and often add other foods such as such as granola or berries to make them chewier, while smooshers prefer a creamier consistency so they can play with it in their mouths. Its all about tailoring the texture to their individual preferences.
- How can food companies use this information to improve their products?
Companies can develop products that are tailor made to meet the needs of each eating style.
There are 3 things you really need to do to get maximum consumer appeal – get the label, the visual appeal and eating experience right. We discovered in our consumer workshops, that if someone is attracted to a specific texture claim and feels the eating experience is consistent with that claim, they will be more likely to repeat buy and stay loyal to the brand.
However, we found that many consumers can be dissatisfied with products when the label is misleading. For example, when said claims haven’t lived up to their expectations, for example a ‘crunchy’ pizza doesn’t turn out to be crunchy at all.
- Where can I get more information on how Mouth Behaviour affects consumers?
We’ve published a report so you can learn more about Eating Styles and Mouth Behaviour which is available for download.
There are also some ‘talking senses’ videos which show consumers with different eating styles talking about what they look for in a product which you can watch now.
If you would like to dive even deeper into the topic, there’s also a book available written by our experts.
The book is called ‘Food Texture Design and Optimization’, by Yadunandan Lal Dar and Joseph M. Light. It discusses how food texture has evolved to be at the forefront of food formulation and development as well as presenting the latest insights in food texture derived from advances in formulation science. It is available for purchase here.
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