SenTo: Enthusiastic seniors make ground-breaking research possible
“When can I try some of your delicious food again?”, e-mailed 80-year-old Mr. Verhoef, a little impatiently. Along with 800 peers, he is part of SenTo, helping Wageningen University & Research doing research on how older people experience and appreciate foods.
No one is more motivated to cooperate in research than the average member of the SenTo panel, the seniors’ consumer panel that was established four years ago by Wageningen University & Research. The seniors join the panel for several reasons. Mr. Verhoef for example, finds it exciting to evaluate new products. Others are pleased to help generating new knowledge about healthy food products for seniors. Some really enjoy the atmosphere during group discussions or test sessions. “It’s as if we are all sitting having a Chinese”, joked two elderly gentlemen recently, when they were served their test products through a hatch.
”It is as if we’re having a Chinese,” jokes one SenTo member to another.
In my work for Food and Biobased Research, I put the enthusiasm of ‘our’ seniors to good use in different types of research studies. Last year, a group of panelists evaluated the flavour and portion size of protein- and energy-enriched ready-to-eat meals. Others were interviewed about the importance of hot meals. Another sub-group tried the Recipe Checker – an app to check whether recipes meet the dietary guidelines of the Netherlands Nutrition Centre.
SenTo’s size and composition make it excellent for these types of research and offer the ability to examine specific subgroups of seniors. Participants in the panel include active 55-plussers, 90-year-olds, gourmets and people with a reduced sense of smell; all online and easily accessible. The panel gives a reliable picture of how ‘the’ independent, elderly consumer experiences and appreciates food products.
Currently a number of SenTo members are involved in an investigation that goes far beyond product appreciation and perception:. Together with TNO and LEI Wageningen University & Research, we are investigating whether personalised advice can help older people make responsible diet and lifestyle choices. Participants undergo several blood tests, body measurements and muscle-function tests, and they complete social and psychological questionnaires. During the study they regularly keep track of what they eat and each wears a pedometer. Participants receive personalised advice based on all the data collected.
The Sento Panel provides a reliable picture of how ‘the’ independent elderly consumer experiences and appreciates products.
I am convinced that, in the coming years, deploying a senior panel will become an indispensable step in product development. The number of seniors is increasing and they clearly have different nutritional needs, and experience products differently, than younger generations. There are opportunities galore for smart manufacturers who capitalise on these changes. It won’t just depend upon the enthusiasm of Mr. Verhoef and his ‘SenTo colleagues’.
Do you want to learn more about how Wageningen UR uses the SenTo panel for research and product development? Read more on the website of Wageningen University & Research or contact us directly.
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