The eating environment is thought to significantly affect customers’ sensory perception of and hedonic reactions to most food products (Stelick, A., & Dando, R.,2018). In sensory science, booths are frequently used to test food products. The sensory data gathered in these booths, however, would not completely reflect the overall dining experience given how strictly regulated the testing environment is. This poor ecological validity can contribute to poor market performance. (Stelick, A., & Dando, R.,2018; Delarue, J., 2019; Köster, E. P., 2009).
It is practically difficult and expensive to test food products in many real-world scenarios while maintaining experimental control. The adoption of immersive context technology in sensory research has thus seen a rapid increase in interest in recent years. Immersive reality has the potential to be applied in sensory science since it is so interactive and captivating (Kong, Y., 2020), enriching the test environment while preserving an experimenters ability to control key elements of the participants sensory experience.
The objective of this study was to progress these arguments by fully engaging immersive technology to simulate two very different contexts (a beach and a living room setting) that are likely situations of consumption for the product to be tested: ice cream (Figure 1 and 2).
Our study aimed to evaluate how the immersive environment would affect consumers’ choice and emotional response for commercially available ice cream products. The ice cream selected were two chocolate options (one vegan and one dairy) and two fruity options (one vegan and one dairy).
Participants were asked to visit the sensory facility twice (two sessions), each time entering a different immersive room setting and selecting an ice cream while answering questions about the ice cream chosen. Participants were randomly assigned to perform the test first in either the beach or the living room immersive setting. At the end of the study, each participant completed the task in both immersive settings (Figure 3).
Can the immersive settings influence the ice-cream choice?
The results showed that in both sessions, dairy ice creams were the most popular but in the second session a higher proportion of consumers switched to the chocolate vegan option
In the first session, dairy ice creams were the top choice, indicating that traditional ice creams are still the preferred option for many consumers. However, in the second session a higher proportion of consumers switched to the chocolate vegan option. This suggests that there is a growing interest in plant-based alternatives, especially for flavors like chocolate. To meet the needs of all consumers, it is therefore important to offer a range of options that cater to different preferences and tastes.
The immersive setting did not appear to have an effect on the type of ice cream chosen. This suggests that other factors, such as taste and personal preferences, may play a larger role in determining ice cream selection.
Analysis of Consumer Switching Habits from Dairy to Vegan Products
The data analyzed shows that the percentage of consumers who switched from dairy to vegan products in the second session was influenced by their choice in the first session (Figure 5). Out of the consumers who picked a fruity dairy option in the first session, 22% chose to switch to a dairy vegan option in the second session. On the other hand, only 10% of consumers who initially picked a chocolate dairy option decided to switch to a vegan chocolate option in the second session.
This suggests that consumer preferences towards fruity flavors may be more open to trying vegan alternatives, while those who prefer chocolate flavors may have stronger ties to traditional dairy options. Further research may be needed to fully understand this pattern and determine potential strategies for encouraging more consumers to switch to vegan options, regardless of flavor preference.
In conclusion, the data highlights the importance of considering consumer preferences and habits when promoting and marketing vegan products. Understanding these factors can help companies and organizations effectively target their efforts and increase the uptake of vegan options.
Does 'Immersive Room Setting' affect the emotional state pre-post consumption?
Throughout testing participants also recorded changes in their emotional state. To measure change in emotions consumers were asked to fill in an Emoji Grid at various stages before and after eating ice-cream in both immersive settings (Figure 6). This allowed us to ask the question: can emotional state be affected by the immersive setting in which an ice cream is consumed? The difference between the pre and post-consumption emotional state was calculated and then examined for any robust differences across time and setting. Valence and arousal were both tested independently as measures of the emotional state.
Our results showed that consuming ice cream in a beach setting leads to a greater increase in valence, while consumption of ice cream in the living room setting leads to a greater increase in arousal relative to pre-consumption levels. This suggests that eating ice cream in a beach setting leads to a greater increase your experience of positive pleasant emotions, whereas eating ice cream in a living room setting leads to a greater increase in your emotional arousal (energy) compared to before consuming the ice cream. This supports the idea that the environment in which a product is consumed can play a role in shaping a person’s experience and emotions.
This study highlights the potential of using emoji grids to measure changes in emotional states and the ability of the immersive room setting to influence these states. As well as showing that the immersive room setting can have a significant impact on changes in emotional state experienced when an individual consumes a product. It therefore adds to a body of evidence demonstrating that immersive rooms can be utilized to provide valuable insights into the role of the environment in shaping a person’s experience and emotions. Understanding these factors can help companies create more impactful and memorable experiences for their consumers.