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University to research Canadian food habits and response to food scares

New research at the University of Guelph allows for the accurate tracking of changes in Canadian's eating habits and consumer response to issues like food scares. Using  the Guelph Food Panel, researchers will be able to survey 2000 people about their food consumption and habit over time.

May 1, 2008  By University of Guelph

April 30, 2008

Guelph, Ont. – For the first time, researchers will be able to accurately track changes
in Canadian's eating habits and measure consumer responses to issues
like food scares, thanks to researchers at the University of Guelph.

They have developed The Guelph Food Panel, the first large-scale panel
consumer group dedicated to food and research. Made of up 2,000 people,
it will allow researchers to survey participants with 24-hour's notice
and to assess any changes in their response over time.


"There is no other instrument like this in Canada," said Prof. John
Cranfield, Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics. "We
can see how people's concerns and perceptions about food and their
consumption patterns change over time. We can also get immediate
consumer responses to food scares, such as whether people stopped eating
spinach after some brands were found to be tainted with E. coli."

Previous methods provided only a snapshot of information because
researchers were surveying a certain group of people at a certain time,
Cranfield added.

With the panel, members can be surveyed on the same topic years apart to
see how their views have changed and can also give immediate responses
to any food crisis that might occur.

"If there is a food scare tonight, we can send them a survey within 24
hours," said Prof. Spencer Henson, who help developed the panel with
Cranfield and post-doctoral research associate Oliver Masakure. "This
system allows us to have our finger on the pulse of Canadians with
respect to food."

Panel members will be sent half a dozen online surveys a year on topics
relevant to Canada's food system.

The panel is made up of people from the Guelph area, but they were
recruited based on age, gender and level of education to ensure the
group is representative of the Canadian population, said Henson.

"This will allow us to find information not only on the Guelph
population, but Ontario and Canada," he said.

Partly funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural
Affairs and the Advanced Food Materials Network, the panel will be used
by researchers to examine consumers' perceptions of the food system and
the level of confidence that exists from local farms to imported food to
grocery chains.

Researchers will also be looking at consumers' responsiveness to new
foods, their diet and whether they're trying to eat healthier, what
types of food consumers believe to be healthier and perceived obstacles
to healthy eating.

As consumers become more informed about food issues, it's important for
researchers to assess how this is affecting what they're buying, said

"With this information, we can inform the food system and the government
about the views of Canadians towards food," he said. "Our intent with
this research is to find ways of making the food system work better."


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