It is well known that there are individual differences between people when it comes to food preference—but the reasons for these differences are largely unknown.
What is known centers primarily on flavor—while understanding and texture research lag behind. There are several reasons for this. First, texture awareness by individuals is generally low, while flavor awareness is more top of mind. Secondly, people have a limited ability to verbalize texture characteristics and mouthfeel.
So with that background, what have researchers missed as it applies to items we consume? What does drive human texture preferences? How much does mouthfeel play a role?
The Understanding & Insight Group (U&I) has found a previously unrevealed, unexpressed need that drives texture preferences: mouth behavior. The truth is that individuals have a preferred way to manipulate food in their mouths (mouth behavior) and this BEHAVIOR determines the food textures they will prefer. So, TEXTURE is not the key driver of liking but rather textures that FIT a preferred/desired mouth behavior.
So, what are these mouth behaviors? U&I identified four groups: Chewers, Crunchers, Smooshers, and Suckers. The names were derived by considering the source of the preferred mouth behavior. These groups fall into two major modes of mouth actions. Chewers and Crunchers use their teeth to break down foods, while Smooshers and Suckers prefer to manipulate food between the tongue and the roof of the mouth.
Here’s a look at the differences between these groups, in more detail.
MOUTH BEHAVIOR GROUPS
Chewers look for a certain amount of fullness in their mouth when chewing foods they consider satisfying. Chewers eat with the same mouth motions as crunchers, but they are less vigorous in their chew and eat a food more slowly. When eating a crunchy food, they turn it into a “moist mass” that they can chew. While not as fast chewing as crunchers, these individuals often are the second fastest at completing a food portion relative to the four mouth behaviors.
Crunchers eat food forcefully. They often are accused by others of being “too loud” when they eat. They want to be able to crunch, crunch, crunch and when they are done crunching—the food is gone! They often use this forceful mouth action even when eating soft foods. These individuals often are the fastest meal eaters of the four behaviors.
Smooshers use the tongue and the roof of their mouths to mash food into a desirable matrix to swallow. They often do not enjoy chewing (unlike their chewer/cruncher friends), and do so only when they can’t “smoosh” a food. Because of this, they will eat much smaller bites of hard foods. They will enjoy crunchy foods that they can turn into a soft mass or “smoosh” – like puffed savory snacks. They can be accused of being “really slow” eaters because of how slowly they process foods in their mouths.
Suckers like foods that they can suck. They often suck out the flavor before chewing or alternate sucking and chewing motions. They enjoy foods that can be processed in this way for a long time. Foods that can’t be sucked (e.g., too rough) will be chewed, but not necessarily enjoyed to the same level as a “suck” food. Suckers also are generally slow eaters; they are taking time to process the food with their sucking approach.
Mouth behavior group discovery and understanding did not come easily or quickly. It required more than 14 years of research. That involved U&I watching consumer behaviors and conducting in-depth consumer interviews to get to the place where researchers felt confident in the groups, their differences, and could type a person with an in-depth interview. However, for this research to go forward, U&I needed to develop a “typing” tool that could be used to easily type a person in any situation. Traditional survey approaches often were “not up to the task” for a wide variety of reasons.
U&I found an elegant, yet simple solution in the use of pictures, which relied on pattern recognition. Consumer participants would see the food pictures and respond: “this is me” or “this is not me.”
This tool, the JBMB (Jeltema/Beckley Mouth Behavior) typing tool –along with the research used to develop Mouth Behavior—can be found in Jeltema et. al. (2015). Research using 500 individuals across the U.S., found that these groups differ in size. In this research, Chewers and Crunchers were the most common (43% and 33%, respectively), followed by Smooshers (16%) and lastly by Suckers (8%).
Since developing the tool, the authors have conducted additional studies to understand texture perception among these groups. U&I’s findings have significant consequences for product development and the way that texture is measured. U&I finds that products do not have an “inherent” texture—but rather that texture perception differs by mouth behavior group based on the way the food is manipulated in the mouth.
An individual will try to modify a food in the mouth to achieve a texture that will allow the food to be eaten using his preferred mouth behavior. For example, a food such as a shortbread, may be “crunched” by a Cruncher, but a Smoosher may allow enough saliva to mix with the product to allow it to be “smooshed.” Because of this, texture perceptions will differ. If a person can easily modify the product in their mouth to allow it to be eaten by their preferred mouth behavior it will be “liked.” If not, it will be deemed “so-so” or “not worth buying.”
Mouth behavior has been an unexpressed need, because individuals do not realize how they are manipulating food or how they are conducting food modification. People don’t understand how profoundly important texture manipulation is to their end point satisfaction. No product is perfect for all groups, but some can be more easily adapted to different groups.
These differences in product preference and texture perception have profound implications for the way products are measured, developed and marketed. First, these groups need to be taken into account as products are developed. Secondly, using trained panels to measure texture does not take into account the fact that texture perception differs by group, or the fact that the texture changes over the eating experience. Last but not least, marketing communications also must take these differences in texture perception into account – because we do not all perceive the texture similarly. What makes a “good crunch” to a Cruncher is different from the attributes that make a “good crunch” to a Chewer.
1. Everyone has a preferred way to manipulate food in their mouths (mouth behavior) and this behavior determines the food textures they will prefer.
2. Research with 500 individuals across the U.S., found that these groups differ in size. Chewers and Crunchers were the most common (43% and 33%, respectively), followed by Smooshers (16%) and lastly by Suckers (8%).
3. Mouth behavior research presents important ramifications for product development and the way that texture is measured. U&I believes products do not have an “inherent” texture, but rather that texture perception differs by mouth behavior group—based on the way the food is manipulated in the mouth.
Jeltema M.A., Beckley, J.B., & Vahalik, J. (2015). Model for Understanding Consumer Textural Food Choice. Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, DOI:10.1002/fsn 3.205
The Understanding & Insight Group LLC is a business development and products research technology company practicing in the innovation and product design space for more than 16 years. Jacqueline Beckley is president and founder of The Understanding & Insight Group. Melissa Jeltema, PhD, is U&I’s vice president of Intrapreneurship. Jennifer Vahalik is director of product research technologies for U&I Collaboration. Visit www.theuandigroup.com for additional details.
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