Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of the Aegean


Contact details:

Address: Department of Food Science and Nutrition, School of the Environment, University of the Aegean, Metropolite Ioakeim 2, GR 81400, Myrina, Lemnos, Greece

Dr Konstantinos Gkatzionis
Associate Professor

Phone: (+30) 22540 83113
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


DESCRIPTION

The LABORATORY OF CONSUMER RESPONSES AND SENSORY PERCEPTION OF FOOD & DRINKS is based at the Department of Food Science and Nutrition in Lemnos, under the supervision of Associate Professor Konstantinos Gatzionis and researchers specializing in the study, measurement and understanding of emotional responses to food & drinks, and the connection of their organoleptic perception with physicochemical properties of foods’ structure and composition.

The uniqueness of the lab lies in the innovative and multidisciplinary methodology applied for understanding consumer emotional reactions and sensopry evaluation, based on both explicit and implicit (not controlled by the tester) measurements. Particular emphasis is placed on the interaction of perception, preference and properties of food based on food culture and habits of different countries, and the comparison of local and foreign consumers through tourism.


Picture 1. Recording of panellists’ responses and testing of drinks at different temperatures in IR.

The laboratory utilises state-of-the-art research equipment to understand the reactions to food and beverage products, including:

  • Recording of subconscious physiological reactions of the human body (autonomous nervous system responses), e.g. heart rate, temperature and electrical conductivity of the skin etc.
  • System for recording muscle contractions, e.g. mastication.
  • Cameras and software to record facial expressions during food and drink experiences, and translate them into emotions.
  • Execution of sensory studies and profiling of products, in lab, and in real life enviroments.
  • Recording of testing in the infrared spectrum.
  • Media for projection of audiovisual stimuli.
  • Linking to other laboratories to characterise physicochemical properties of food samples.
  • English language teacher & lexicographer for processing Greek and English food & beverage descriptors based on their organoleptic characteristics.


The lab collects data and concludes on consumer behavior, organoleptic evaluation of products, via both fundamental research and applied studies to improve acceptance, and enhance exportability and competitiveness in markets, taking into account the effect on perception by local food cultures and habits.

Examples:

  • How does the ideal crunchiness of a Greek cracker differ between Greek and Scandinavians consumers, and what sound pattern is associated to quality products?
  • What is the ideal saltiness of a Greek cheese for an African consumer?
  • What colour characteristics are expected by European consumers for sweet fruit preserves in order the product to be perceive as traditionally made with quality fruit?

The objectives of the laboratory are

  • as regards basic research, to understand the interaction of subconscious emotional reactions with sensory perception, and define desired physicochemical characteristics of food and drink.
  • In terms of applied research, to support the utilisation and competitiveness of local foods & raw materials through their targeted design for optimum fit and adaptation in the domestic markets and exports.

The ambition of the laboratory is to become a national centre for know-how on the responses of consumers to foods and drinks and their sensory evaluation in collaboration with industry. Also, to welcome researchers locally and internationally for joint training and research studies.

Picture 2. Snapshot of study aiming the reduction of food waste. Sensory analysis of fruit ripening in terms of acceptability or rejection as food waste, comprising panellists of different continents (top to bottom: Asia, Africa, Europe)

 

RESEARCH THEMES

Our taste preferences are shaped since infancy according to the local raw materials and ingredients, and they are important to shaping our food future and food choices later. Foods that are widespread in a particular area may be perceived attractive to some other markets, but for completely different reasons. For example, different varieties of honey from region to region create different consumer taste habits associated with eating memory. Studying emotional reactions could explain, and even predict, the food habits of different societies. However, such correlation studies are limited.

Sensory analysis: It is a scientific tool applied to trigger, measure, analyse and interpret consumer reactions to products as perceived through senses of sight, touch, odour, taste and hearing. The purpose of sensory evaluation is to characterize a food product and to understand the relationship of the product to the end user with numerical data and statistical tools.

Emotional driven consumer reactions to food: Nowadays, it is now well-established that food choices are directly influenced by emotional responses in addition to organoleptic characteristics. In order to provide insight to consumer psychology and eating habits, researchers are studying the impact of food-induced emotions. Most research focuses on the influence of emotions on food choice and food intake, on eating habits and consumer behavior. In recent years, the emotions during eating have also been systematically investigated. A number of tools have been devised to capture the emotions caused by food and depending on how the emotional relationship with the product is evaluated, the methods are divided into explicit and implicit. Explicit methods are either verbal or visual measurements that request participants to report feelings when eating, smelling or displaying food products. Although explicit methods are quick and user friendly they can be biased as the consumer is also involved in capturing emotions. For developing approaches based on objective criteria, implicit methods have been employed, where data capture is continuous, not interrupted by the completion of questionnaires and emotions are recorded according to: a) through measurable biological responses of the body, such as cardiovascular responses (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), respiratory responses (e.g., respiratory rate), electrodermal responses (i.e., skin conductivity, skin conductance level), brain reflections (i.e. frontal alpha asymmetry) and eye responses b) the subject's expressive reactions during the product test, such as facial expression, accompanied by happiness, sadness, irritation etc. Software is utilised for recognizing in camera the facial muscles associated with emotions. Finally, EMG records the facial muscles contractions with electrodes touching the skin. c) with method like the APP (Affective Priming Paradigm) based on recording reactions in function with time. Faster, reactions are associated to more stable emotional relationships.

Picture 3. Facial expressions recording and linking to emotional responses, during the experience of flavour in drinks.

 

COLLABORATIONS

In recent years, intercultural research on food perception and the influence of culture on food perception and marketing have flourished. Studies show that consumers' familiarity with the foods under investigation may affect their description and distinctiveness during sensory sudies. In addition, differences in language and ethnic variations could affect the perception of food products. It is important to understand how food and drink preferences, in a variety of products, differ between people of different cultures.

The laboratory has joint research projects and collaborations developed with Greek laboratories as well as institutions internationally.

The laboratory is complemented by collaborators and equipment at the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham UK, through joint supervision of doctorates and research projects.

Potential partners of the laboratory are food producers and/or food processors, SMEs and large enterprises in the Aegean area and throughout Greece, businesses and research / academic institutions in third countries through participation in joint research programs, and new product developers and consultants.


Picture 4. Snapshot of sensory analysis trial in Thessaloniki, investigating the organoleptic perception of honey samples based on taste and colour (doctorate project: Georgakakis 2019).

 

RESEARCH PROJECTS

See other sections.

Examples of projects

  • Comparing the perception and liking of different Greek honey varieties between Greek and Chinese panel, noted that Chinese consumers are less used to intensive sweetness compared to Greeks.
  • Study of the interaction of hardness, color, and sweetness in food models (gels) for sensory perception and preference.
  • Definition and comparison between African, European and Chinese panels of critical ripening point of bananas in order to better manage and reduce food waste.
  • Comparison between Greek and Indonesian tasters of perception of soy flavor based on color.

Example of published work:

  • Price, EJ, Tang, R, El Kadri, H, Gkatzionis, K. Sensory analysis of honey using Flash profile: A cross‐cultural comparison of Greek and Chinese panels. Journal of Sensory Studies. 2019; 34:e12494. https://doi.org/10.1111/joss.12494

 

EDUCATIONAL & TRAINING ACTIVITIES

The laboratory team is involved in the development of textbooks and e-learning courses for sensory and consumer studies, which will be available through the University of the Aegean. In addition to distance learning, there are options for the development of training materials and sessions tailor-made to individual industries.



STAFF

The laboratory is comprised by Dr. Konstantinos Gkatzionis, Associate Professor in the Department of Food and Nutrition Science at the University of the Aegean, and honorary member of staff at the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham UK, and includes 6 active doctoral researchers. It hosts Erasmus trainees and international students looking for summer placements. The laboratory team includes and English language teacher & lexicography specialist and food and drink description terms.


 

 

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