The University of Guelph is probing the minds of grocery shoppers at two new research labs.
Opened this month, the Longo’s Food Retail Lab and the Schneider’s Research Lab were designed to help researchers better understand consumer decision-making, consumption habits and reactions to food advertising.
The Longo’s Food Retail Lab, a 1,400 sq. ft. mock grocery store, will use eye-tracking equipment and cameras to find out how people make purchase decisions. Researchers can look at a wide variety of areas, such as how people make evaluations on price, and how food labels affect their buying decision.
Adjacent to the retail lab is the Schneider’s Research Lab, which is equipped with computers to gauge participants’ reactions to advertising, complete surveys and other analyses.
The labs, located in Macdonald Stewart Hall, were conceived by Mike von Massow, associate professor, food agriculture and resource economics at the University of Guelph. “I’m a food researcher and I’m interested in how people make decisions about food. And so, coming up with a way that would improve our ability to have a natural purchase environment, without actually being in a store, had a lot of appeal to me,” he says.
Longo’s has an ongoing partnership with University of Guelph, and had pledged $500,000 over five years to support various research projects. “I was encouraged through the College of Business and Economics to approach Longo’s and say, ‘we could take some of that money and build this infrastructure that will give us a place that we can do really innovative and different research,’” says von Massow.
Schneiders had also given a gift to the university that was intended to go toward food research “and the computer lab component was a perfect outlet for that,” he says.
One of the first research projects is around GMO labels, looking at “do people see the label, do they look at it, do they consider it… and the eye tracking will tell us that,” says von Massow. “Many companies now put GMO labels on the back with the nutrition information, so is that affecting purchase decisions?”
The labs are partnering with suppliers to get packaging without actual food inside.
“Especially for perishable foods, we’d rather have empty packaging with some weight in it, rather than having food that we need to find a home for because it goes bad and then have to replace things all the time,” says von Massow.
The findings will be published in academic journals and online. “And we’ll go out into the industry and talk about it if we’re invited by anyone to come speak about it,” says von Massow. “We’re going to be happy to do that.”