On 19 April 2023, the FEM SUA in Nitra welcomed the participants of the international workshop “Sharing best practices among food consumer science experts”

On 19 April 2023, the FEM SUA in Nitra welcomed the participants of the international workshop “Sharing best practices among food consumer science experts”, organised within the Horizon 2020 project COMFOCUS.

The aim of the event was to hear the opinion about the project approach and get input to whether this approach makes sense or if things should be done differently, as well as to learn whether the harmonised protocols and measures would be helpful in participants’ research. The round table discussion offered both offline and online participation.

On the meeting, the project approach was shortly introduced by the project coordinator Machiel Reinders (Wageningen University, the Netherlands), followed by discussions in smaller groups to brainstorm ideas, supervised by Liisa Lähteenmäki (Aarhus University, Denmark).

At the end of the event, the 2nd Open Call of the project was officially launched by local project coordinator and WP3 leader, prof. Elena Horská. Its aim is to provide an opportunity for early career researchers to gain access to European consumer science institutes specializing in psychophysiological measurements, virtual and augmented reality research, and conduct collaborative research on important food consumer science questions. 67 positions are offered to conduct research in one of the participating institutions, designed to accommodate research projects that align with the expertise and research priorities of the various institutes.

The EU-funded COMFOCUS project aims to advance food consumer science by taking a critical view to the concepts and methods used, in order to produce harmonised measures and protocols. Having these harmonised approaches will enable to compare findings from different studies and make it possible to integrate data from several studies. The final goal is to create the COMFOCUS starting community for food consumer science.

The civic engagement workshops recently took place in Italy, UK, Spain, Slovakia and Denmark

COMFOCUS seeks to develop a digital platform that links food consumer data across Europe. Under the General Data Protection Regulation, the use of food consumer data is possible under two conditions: either through the explicit consent of the research participant whose data is being used, or if its use is for “public benefit”. Despite the significance that the consideration of public benefit has in defining how consumer data is used, there is limited understanding of how the publics conceptualise “public benefit” in the context of food consumer data, much of which has been studied using simple survey methodology.

We utilised the game “PlayDecide” in 5 countries (UK, Italy, Denmark, Slovakia, Spain) to explore this topic.

PlayDecide enables the participants to discuss and debate, with minimal interference from the facilitator, on the policy issues that are contested, complex or relatively less known. We chose PlayDecide as an ideal engagement method to help us understand how the publics reason about public benefit relevant to food consumer data; how people achieve consensus about how to rank order public benefits; and the role of deliberation in shifting the participants’ individual responses prior and after the game.

We have recruited 16 people for 2 focus groups (8 per group) in each of six countries: one with higher education level participants (university degree or more) and one with a lower education level (less than university degree).

We analysed the following data: the participants’ initial position on the issue of what constitutes public benefit, and their position after the discussion; the transcripts from the discussions; the consensus voted at the end of the discussion.

The conclusions we reached using this methodology were:

  • We were able to identify what are commonly perceived as public benefits across a range of members of the public from different countries, some of the characteristics they share and who they believe are responsible for those benefits as well as unique views and understanding of this concept;
  • We were able to capture how a consensus building methodology (PlayDecide.eu) led to change (or not, in some cases) on perspectives of what constitutes public benefit;
  • Greater agreement in what might constitute the greatest and least public benefit derived from food consumer data from a list of options was more evident across countries among those with less than a university education. Among those with at least a university education, less agreement was evident across countries as the greatest public benefit derived from food consumer data, but there was more agreement as to which option presented the least public benefit derived from food consumer data.

Professor of marketing and consumer behaviour at Wageningen University Hans van Trijp shared his thoughts at the EuroSense Conference on a “Sense of Earth” in Turku, Finland in September, 2022.

The main point of his presentation was “How could the field of Food Consumer Science reinvent itself to truly be the scientific data rich discipline to support public food policy and private food strategy in understanding and bringing about the necessary transitions in the areas of healthy and sustainable food consumption”?

As scientific coordinator of COMFOCUS, Hans presented a vision and an approach of COMFOCUS – a consortium of European partners working together in the EU funded research infrastructure project.

He talked about important factors in the external environment of the field of Food Consumer Science. Namely, that the health and sustainability challenge requires a “new” balance between internal and external validity of the study designs and interpretations. It will also have methodological impact on dominant research approaches – from doing research ON consumers, increasingly also to do so WITH consumers. And finally, about FAIR data principles – they require that all of our data are Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Re-usable.

Hans gave some examples from his scientific life on how to focus more on external validity and where it requires completely different study designs. Building on early work by Howard Schutz, he argued that for external validity focus, the field needs to move forward along three important dimensions. First, in terms of research participants in our studies, it would require a shift towards data collected from randomly selected, real life consumers. In terms of product, the focus should move beyond ingredients or isolated products to capture the full real-life shopping and consumption habits. In terms of measures, the field should move beyond self-expressed liking and preference measures to consumption patterns as they actually emerge in terms of real behaviour.

Professor Hans van Trijp also talked about marketing approaches, data harmonization, ontologies and benefits that COMFOCUS will bring.

He highlighted that COMFOCUS is open to young career researchers and invites them to become part of the COMFOCUS community. It offers opportunities to become a COMFOCUS fellow and to take active part in the COMFOCUS Open Calls – 1 and 2, specifically designed for partners from outside the current COMFOCUS consortium.

Please do not hesitate to contact us in case of interest. You can do so through the COMFOCUS email info@comfocus.eu or during any of the future events.

Feel free to join the COMFOCUS roundtables taking place in April in Slovakia and Denmark.

The 2nd annual project meeting of COMFOCUS “Making it happen” was held in Porto on February 9th and 10th 2023!

The overall goals of the meeting were:

  • «To make it happen»: to bring COMFOCUS beyond the tipping point and show «proof of principle» of a Food Consumer Science integrated data and research infrastructure
  • To stimulate interlinkages and cooperations between Networking Activities (NA), Joint Research Activities (JRA) and Virtual and Transnational access (VA/TNA)

Besides the plenary meetings, the agenda of the event included several parallel work sessions, the Stakeholder Forum and the International Advisory Board meeting.

In the plenary session on Open Calls, the start of the application process has been announced, along with a guideline on the further applicants’ steps and information about the opportunities the COMFOCUS toolbox gives. During the interactive part of the session on communication and dissemination, participants had the opportunity to present their vision on how the future dissemination strategy steps should look like.

During the plenary session about the Noldus Hub prototype software, a demo has been demonstrated. Participants were informed about how the use of emerging technologies like eye-tracking can be real-time followed and recorded. They also discussed practical tasks to improve the product for its further use in FCS.

In the Stakeholder Forum, it was possible to obtain initial feedback from the stakeholders on the COMFOCUS project status, align mutual expectations, discuss opportunities from Open Call 1 and 2, and discuss collaboration opportunities in communication and dissemination area.  

Board members were updated on the project achievements during the International Advisory Board (IAB) meeting, expressed suggestions on improving the project visibility through communication and dissemination, were updated on harmonization of emerging technology measures, and discussed different approaches to ontology within COMFOCUS.  

It was an inspiring and fruitful meeting, participants summed up the practical issues and theoretical challenges of further work on the project. Future challenges lay in how COMFOCUS can contribute when moving from a food consumer science paradigm to a food citizen science paradigm, proceeding from a project structure to a viable organisation with a business plan, and progressing from a starting community to a more advance community.