Annual Meeting 2024!

On February 27th and 28th, consortium members, IAB members and stakeholders gathered together in Ljubljana (Slovenia) to share and provide updates about the status of COMFOCUS after three years and settle goals for the last year of the project.

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Academic Training

On February 29th 2024, COMFOCUS held an Academic Training in Ljubljana (Slovenia) and welcomed its fellows, who came to the event specifically to learn from the project members and share experiences with other fellows.

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COMFOCUS has recently launched the Academic Training program

COMFOCUS has recently launched the Academic Training program, which is part of the project summer schools. The aim of Academic Training is to foster learning with COMFOCUS and demonstrate and disseminate harmonised measurements, protocols, datasets, as well as to study best practices in the field of food consumer science.

Topics of Academic Training include: general introduction to consumer science, hands-on training at food consumer science harmonised measurements, protocols and guidelines for use of infrastructures and dedicated installations. Furthermore, basic insight in data models and methods of creating meta data, use of guidelines, raw data acquisition and processing (data) pipelines.

This online training session was held online on November 20, 2023. Besides an online event, the project is also going to organise a couple of face-to-face events in different European cities. The first one will take place in Ljubljana (Slovenia) in February – March, 2024!

The online event, that took place in November, gathered over 35 participants for insightful learning, provided by the project members.

Scientific coordinator of the project Hans van Trijp (Wageningen University&Research) opened the training with the challenges the food consumer science field faces nowadays and solutions that COMFOCUS can offer for integrating it and bringing to another level.

Academic Training included presentations from the project members Liisa Lahteenmaki (Aarhus University), Austėja Kažemekaitytė (University of Trento), Beatrice Biondi (University of Bologna) and Mari Sandell (University of Turku).  During the event, they raised discussions on harmonised psycho-social and psychophysiological measures, talked in details about explicit and implicit measures, provided insights into cross-sectional and longitudinal studies in food consumer science and talked about individual differences in consumer sensory perception.

COMFOCUS organised a preconference workshop at the FENS conference!

This workshop, titled “Why We Eat What We Eat: Better Understanding of Healthy Eating Patterns in Practice,” took place in Belgrade on November 13, 2023. The overarching theme aimed at advancing food consumer science through harmonization, data integration, and collaboration.

The program started with a welcoming address. Ellen van Kleef delivered a presentation on the harmonization of self-report measures, examining the reasons for harmonization and its impact on research quality and scientific creativity. Subsequently, participants engaged in a discussion to share their perspectives on the harmonization of self-report measures. Mainly, benefits such as the importance for research outcome comparability, prevention of research waste, and the necessity of linking data were highlighted. Drawbacks included difficulty in implementation, the need for robust governance mechanisms, time consumption, and challenges in harmonization.

Harold Bult then explored the opportunities and challenges associated with physio-physical measures for understanding eating behaviour and data integration. By casting their votes and sharing their opinions, the emphasis was placed on the practical implementation of physio-physical measures. The majority of participants expressed interest in including more implicit measures in their research, particularly in EEG measures and pupil size measures. Challenges preventing their use included a lack of knowledge on psychophysiology, complex measures, and difficulties in harmonizing results.

Following this, Lada Timotijevic discussed the principles of FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) and Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI).  After that, participants delved into essential aspects of responsible and transparent research concerning data derived from a dating app. Although not a typical research topic in the field, the discussion provided a fresh perspective on how individuals view the use of their personal data as participants on platforms, shedding light on concerns such as selling data to large companies or specific research questions. The importance of considering the user’s perspective and potential reuse in later stages was emphasized for researchers.

The workshop concluded with a brief plenary discussion, allowing participants to share insights and wrap up the workshop.

An online community event took place on October 30, 2023!

COMFOCUS is continually working on Open Call 2 that gives an opportunity for early career researchers to visit a food consumer science institute in Europe and conduct research there using emerging technologies. 61 applicants from 28 countries were already selected and are ready to go to the nine institutes and start first experiments!

In order to strengthen cooperation with the selected applicants and start building a food consumer science community, COMFOCUS launched a community event on October, 30, 2023!

Consortium members, as well as International Advisory Board (IAB), stakeholders and selected applicants participated in the event and got an overview of the last months’ work, shared by the COMFOCUS project members Machiel Reinders (Project Coordinator), Hans van Trijp (Scientific Coordinator), Ellen van Kleef (Professor of Wageningen University), Elena Horska (Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Agriculture at the University of Nitra), Violeta Stancu (Aarhus University) and a member of the International Advisory Board (IAB) Silvain Deplanque, who talked about the importance of COMFOCUS in today’s science.

Interesting discussions in five breakout rooms on different emerging technologies, led by the consortium members, aimed at identifying the specific values each emerging technology can bring to the participants’ research.

The meeting was a great start of the COMFOCUS community and a step towards a better and sustainable food future for everyone!

COMFOCUS at Pangborn Conference 2023

Comfocus was present at Pangborn conference through several members of Consortium Partners. It is quite a central conference in the domain of food consumer science and linked to one of the leading journals within the field. In a sense, the conference/domain covers the various fields of COMFOCUS on food consumer science, both through self-report measures and through emerging technologies like psychophysiological measures and digital representation tools (e.g. VR/AR). But, also well beyond that core, to also cover links to food technology, food design, the eating process and behavioural nutrition. It is a huge conference taking place every two years alternating between US and Europe with over 1000 guests from academia, applied research and companies. The broadness of the field signals is one of the key COMFOCUS issues, namely that the various contributions and subdomains run the risk of becoming disconnected. Hans van Trijp was invited to be panel member in one of the sessions to discuss this issue with the audience. The workshop session called “what is sensory and consumer science? An involving field (still) in need of a definition” was organised and moderated by Herb Meiselman, Sara Jaeger and Davide Giacalone, with Paula Varela (NOFIMA), Richard Popper (P&K Research) and Hans van Trijp (COMFOCUS/WUR) as panel members. Here are some important COMFOCUS-relevant take outs from the meeting:
  • There was a plea made to bring more structure to the field. Of course, it is important to let 1000 flowers blossom, but as a field there is a need for structure, such that learning from each other and leveraging each other’s data and results is further optimised. That is in line with the COMFOCUS philosophy of making data FAIR to ensure effective learning at higher scale and level. However, it is also clear that this thinking is not yet mainstream, also not in this domain. To many there seems an almost instant association with data harmonization and data sharing in terms of “limiting creativity and innovation” and ”privacy and ownership issues”. But the impression is also that the field is moving in that direction of more harmonization and data integration interest, and has progressed since the former conference.
  • There is a growing stream of researchers with substantial interest in integrating and exploiting data sets through the use of digital technology, with presentation on AI and VR/ER, but also on machine learning and complex modelling and applying natural language processing tools for sensory and consumer data.
  • Particularly interesting was a dedicated workshop on “How to leverage digitalization in sensory science for value creation”. This session brought together various of the thought leaders in this subdomain, including companies and universities (among whom Betina Piqueras from COMFOCUS/WUR). Betina briefly presented the COMFOCUS approach as part of how education can anticipate on these developments. 
Link to the programme: https://www.pangbornsymposium.com/conference-programme.html

An online Q&A session on Open Call 2 has recently taken place!

COMFOCUS has just had an interesting and fruitful online Q&A session with our experts – project manager Ireen Raajmakers and Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management of the Slovak University of Agriculture and the WP3 leader Elena Horska.

Ireen has shortly introduced the COMFOCUS approach, she also talked about challenges in the food consumer science field and what solutions COMFOCUS is offering to address them. COMFOCUS is seeking to make food consumer science data findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) through Open Science and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) principles and it is seeking to do that through integrating nine key European research infrastructures in order to promote optimal use and joint development, making high-quality services and resources available to the academic and private research community. Advancing the food consumer science community beyond its current level of fragmentation will also help the community to develop healthy food choice public policies and private strategies, and increase the business and policy relevance of food consumer science insights.

Elena talked about the Open Call 2, its objectives, procedures and about benefits of getting into the COMFOCUS community and becoming one of those, who can advance food consumer science to another level together with us! The Open Call 2 provides an opportunity for early career researchers to gain access to consumer science institutes across Europe and conduct research on important food consumer science questions using specific psychophysiological measurements, virtual and augmented reality research. Each position is a unique opportunity to conduct a study that allows researchers to gather data for their dissertations or articles.

Participants assumed that the session was informative and productive, they were able to gain insights about COMFOCUS and receive an answer to their question.

The face-to-face project meeting took place in Schiphol on May, 31st 2023.

The work package leaders gathered together to reflect on the recent and upcoming activities and move forward towards the goals and actions to be taken in the nearest future.

The meeting included discussions on the knowledge platform, library and discussion platform. Fruitful and informative discussions followed by a short speech of each work package leader.

On the meeting every project member received a clear understanding of what is going to be done in the nearest future, namely:

  • To have a clear and joined vision of the end point of COMFOCUS;
  • Create an overview of where, as a consortium, we are in reaching the promised goals and to identify gaps, risks and activities to reach the promised goals.
  • Create and stimulate interlinkages and cooperations between Networking Activities and Joint Research Activities resulting in concrete action points.

After the meeting, everyone understands the importance of having a clear vision on what is the project end point in 2025.

Keeping the project on board in food consumer science field and ensuring its successful existence after its end are the main goals for every institution involved in COMFOCUS.

Pre-conference COMFOCUS workshop “Enabling future-proof food consumer science: the role of BIG(ger) data from interlinking our efforts

The workshop was held as part of the pre-conference program of the International Food Marketing Research symposium Prague on June 13, 2023. The workshop aimed to discuss the harmonization of measures and protocols in food consumer science (FCS) and its impact on research quality and creativity. The agenda of the workshop included three brief presentations and group discussions. Ellen van Kleef opened the session with a welcome message and the COMFOCUS video.

Liisa Lähteenmäki started off with the topic of harmonization of measures in food consumer science (FCS) and raised important questions about its impact on research quality and creativity.

Liisa stressed the importance of accessibility of harmonized measures and protocols to promote their adoption across different research projects. She emphasized the need for checklists and templates that can support harmonization efforts and facilitate data sharing among researchers. To provide practical insights, Liisa shared the results from roundtable discussions conducted in Denmark, Nordic countries, Spain, and Slovakia, which focused on the benefits of harmonization and the challenges that need to be overcome. These discussions highlighted the importance of understanding and accounting for cultural aspects in food consumption, the limitations of measures developed in “western” countries, and the sensitivity of data to situational factors.

Hans van Trijp’s presentation focused on the topic of translations and scaling, with a specific emphasis on ensuring cross-cultural comparability and inter-linkage of data in food consumer science (FCS). He highlighted the challenges that arise when translating measures and developing in FCS studies, as it involves more than just translating language. Cultural applicability and validation of measures become crucial to ensure the meaningfulness and validity of data across different cultural contexts.

Hans acknowledged that most measures in FCS have been developed in “western” countries, often using student samples, which may limit their applicability and validity in other parts of the world, including Europe. This highlights the need to consider cultural diversity when harmonizing measures for cross-cultural research.

Additionally, Hans explained the need for an ontology in FCS. Developing an ontology offers several advantages, primarily in enabling the exploration of higher-order research questions. They provide substantial support for data fusion, system modelling, and the analysis of big data.

During her presentation, Lisa Mohebati focused on the topic of cultural and other biases in the use of harmonized measures and protocols in FCS. She highlighted the importance of considering these biases and their impact on research outcomes when implementing harmonization efforts. Lisa emphasized the need to adhere to principles of FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) practices in the development and implementation of harmonized protocols and measures. This ensures that data and metadata are readily available, retrievable in machine-actionable form, consistently structured and described, and sufficiently annotated for both machine and human users.

Group discussions

Participants were organized into small groups to examine the COMFOCUS harmonized scales of ‘subjective nutrition knowledge’ and ‘food involvement’. During these discussions, participants explored the complexities surrounding measurement invariance and sensitivity, considering cultural disparities and individual differences.

The discussions first focused on the challenges and potential solutions related to developing and using harmonized measures in the field of food consumer science. Participants recognized the importance of harmonization for comparing and integrating data from different studies. However, they acknowledged that achieving harmonization can be challenging due to variations in cultural contexts, language translations, and evolving constructs over time.

In conclusion, the acknowledgment of the importance of harmonization in food consumer science was widely recognized, as it allows for better comparison and integration of data.

The meeting concluded with a recognition of the relevance and importance of harmonization in the field of food consumer science. However, the participants emphasized the need for flexibility and consideration of evolving concepts, cultural differences, and sub-cultural variations in order to ensure that measures remain relevant and reflective of current trends and perspectives.