Food and nutrition, Fun stuff

Junk Food is a science. I’m a food technologist, I should know

When given the luxury of time, product development is a calculated science.

I’m not saying this because I am a food technologist, I agree that cooking is a an art but with a scientific undercurrent. Furthermore, Sensory Science is called a science for a reason.

I read food technology at university and in our final year we had the good fortune to apply statistics in an exercise of product optimisation. We put people in little booths or rooms and run sheets of questions to map out (literally) every possible factor about the food item presented to them.  In the food manufacturing industry this is lucrative business. Sensory market research is expensive. Very expensive.  Big food corporations set aside hefty amount of their budgets to strip product ideas and prototypes to the fundamentals and to correlate consumer liking to those fundamentals. Then like blocks, we put those pieces back together to create the ultimate super food item.

Now you might think that this is a drawn out robust process that would surely bring about a successful product with continuous liking for a long time. However nothing in life is guaranteed. And that is the catalyst for extensive food engineering. We have to give the consumer EXACTLY what they want, how they want it to increase the probability of success. We have to find that sweet spot, the tipping point as Malcolm Gladwell so aptly describes in his book, The Tipping Point. Too much is on the line to risk a product launch failure. Think financials, brand identity, customer loyalty, reputation, competition…….

Michael Moss recently shed some light on the logic behind some of America’s largest junk food brands in his New York Times article ” The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” . He reveals the revolution of Dr. Pepper and how the highly popular Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper was born, the unbelievable construction of the Lunchables, our eventual demise if we continue eating potato crisps (or potato chips as most people call it) the way we do, and the marketing story of Coca-cola.

It is no wonder we cannot stop eating junk food! Nonetheless, I am proud to have chosen to confront my addiction to sugar, fat and potato crisps. But hey, one crisp every month should not tip the scales the wrong way right?


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