Yummy or Yuck? Baby Focus Groups Decide
Posted by The Baby News
Every store-bought food your little one eats has been taste-tested by armies of goo-gooing babies or chatty toddlers. This fact may seem reassuring or weird to you, but for baby food makers it's simply good business: Children aged 3 and up have $18 billion in buying power, and even parents of babies will buy food according to what their tots eat or spit out.
In a Slate story, Nadia Arumugam explores baby focus groups and the fascinating process of how babies and toddlers taste test a snack before it hits grocery shelves.
Babies can't chat about their food. So researchers analyze their expressions. A downturned mouth, and a wrinkling of the nose while blinking and pursing the lips, are clues that a baby dislikes a food. When they like a a taste, babies smile, lick their lips or make a sucking motion.
Researchers ask toddlers to point to smiley and frown-y emoticon faces to express how they feel during a snack taste test. One researcher tried to use pictures of Snoopy, the iconic dog from Peanuts. The Snoopy faces ranged from sullen to ears-flaring, wide grinning joy.
But the toddlers just wanted to talk about Snoopy, not the foods they were testing. Researchers learned that kids aged 2 to 11 can only pay attention to one element of a conversation at any point in time.
Arumugam observes that a fetus has taste buds by the 13th week of pregnancy. Even in the womb, babies like sweet tastes and dislike bitter and sour flavors. Outside the womb, babies and toddlers prefer soft foods. They have to learn to like crunchy textures and complex flavors through repeated exposure. Strangely, smell doesn't sway them. Babies and toddlers don't seem attracted or repelled by food odors until age 5.
Children are recruited for the focus groups via ads in local papers and magazines and on Facebook. Parents stay at the lab while the children take the taste tests. But researchers don't let parents sit in the same room with their kids. Researchers say children would worry about liking a product they think their parents would say is unhealthy or gross. That explains the wild success of Kraft's Lunchable pizzas. The snack box contains a pouch of cold tomato sauce, shredded cheese, and a doughy disc. A child uses the trio to build a cold pizza bite. Adults were repulsed by the product - toddlers loved it. It was sweet, soft and odorless. And you can bet when the first child loved the snack, there was a researcher, not a parent in the room.
To read Arumugam's Slate article, click here.
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