Whose Decision Is It, Anyway?
"Food companies are interested in selling products that people want," said Gail Civille, founder and president of consulting firm Sensory Spectrum.
The companies are trying to figure out what consumers want, and then they do testing to make sure the product has those elements in it -- "and people like salt, fat and sugar."
The holy grail for food companies is to find a food's "bliss point."
Howard Moskowitz, an experimental psychologist who did pioneering work on bliss points and their role in product development when he was optimizing menus for soldiers in 1971, offered an example of exactly what a bliss point is. "Let's just look at coffee with milk," he said. “Make some coffee, and pour it into seven cups. Start with no milk, and [then] add a certain amount -- the one at the left has no milk; the ones to the right have six different but increasing levels of milk. One of these is the 'tastiest' for you." This is your bliss point.
Obviously, that's a basic example, but imagine the variations on a frozen entrée in which spices, vegetables, proteins and starches are all altered in possibly hundreds of variations. And then the reality is that the bliss point for me might be different from yours.
Then there are the short cuts. "Each generation of food marketers wants to increase acceptance, and the easiest way to do this for many foods is to add sugar," Moskowitz said. "You add just a little bit [of sugar] each time, so over the course of a decade, there's a bigger change."
Most would agree, consumers and food developers alike, that our taste buds have been manipulated over the years – and I would suggest that the average American has no idea what real foods taste like.
Add in one more factor: sensory-specific satiety, a temporary decline in pleasure derived from consuming a certain food. The same sensory characteristics that make our taste buds most excited can run the risk of burnout.
"The more powerful your experience with the first couple of bites, the less satisfying each additional bite is," said Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab and author of "Slim by Design." The result? You get bored relatively quickly of eating.
And we wonder just why there are more than 15,000 new food and beverage products introduced each year?