Are children better at NPD for other children than adults are?

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Are children better than adults at predicting their peers' taste preferences? Image Source: Getty Images/The Good Brigade
Are children better than adults at predicting their peers' taste preferences? Image Source: Getty Images/The Good Brigade

Related tags Children Insect

During product development, it has been speculated, children can be better judges of what their fellow children will like than adults. A new study puts this to the test.

The creation and development of new foods, especially novel foods, can be tricky, as it is often difficult to tell how the consumer will respond. This can be especially true when it comes to children.

While product development has traditionally happened inside companies, recently consumers have been more often included within the process in order to increase the likelihood that the product will be appealing to its target demographic. Given the largely different taste preferences of children when compared to adults, it has been speculated whether, in the case of child taste preferences, they can give a better insight into whether their peers will like a product than adults.

A new study, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, has decided to put this to the test, using children as a tasting panel for a new product: insect snack balls.

Choosing the right flavour

The study aimed to ascertain whether children really are better than adults at designing foods for children, recruiting panels of children and adults to come up with flavours for their insect snack balls, and another panel of children to try said flavours and assess them.

Food neophobia in insects

Insects as food are often seen as a key to the protein transition, but many start-ups are having to grapple​ with one key obstacle to their adoption: food neophobia, or the fear of the new.

For example, a study last year​ suggested disgust was the biggest barrier to getting insects on the market, and another​ showed that those familiar with insects were more likely to give them a try.

According to several start-ups involved in developing insects, the easiest way to acclimatise consumers to the new food was familiarity: the development of it into familiar forms, or the gradual acceptance of it as normal by increased familiarity, such as happened in the past with foods such as sushi.

First, the children brainstormed different flavours, with the help of different snack balls (including the plain insect one) for inspiration. They eventually noted their preferred flavours down on a worksheet.

The adults went through the same process, being asked to generate flavours they believed would appeal to children. The adult panel was made up of those with relevant professional or educational backgrounds (for example: healthy living, business studies and food innovation).

Who were more open to eating insects

Children were shown to have much less reluctance than adults to eat insect-based products, despite the fact that both children and adults disliked the taste of the snack ball in question.

In fact, many of the children expressed a dislike of the taste despite, rather than because of, its insect-based contents. Some of the children suggested that people would be more likely to eat insect-based ingredients if fashioned into a familiar form (as this was).

The three most popular flavours from the children’s and adults’ sessions were made into snack balls, which were then tasted and assessed by a second panel of children.

Children or adults: Who is better at choosing flavour?

Overall, the flavour ideas generated by adults were liked more by the tasting panel of children. The pizza flavour, which was thought up by adults, was the most popular, and the spicy lemon flavour, conceived of by children, was liked the least. 

Children also showed a preference for the Italian herb snack ball, a flavour which children came up with, over the spicy lemon. There were no other significant differences in preference.

When asked whether it was children or adults who had come up with the flavours, the child panel guessed adults had, except with the pizza-flavoured snack ball.

Overall, the results seemed to suggest that children were not better able to predict the flavour preferences of other children better than adults.

The study speculated that the children’s lack of success was based on their less developed theory of mind, as they were unable to conceive of how, for example, a spicy lemon snack ball would taste despite liking the idea a lot. Adults, on the other hand, have a more complex theory of mind.

Sourced From: Food Quality and Preference
'The value of food innovation with children: The case of ‘insect snack balls for kids'
Published on: 21 April 2024
Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2024.105199
Authors: I. V. Lier, E. V. D. Heuvel, E. V. Mil, R. C. Havermans

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