Cross-cultural understanding of consumer attitudes towards pulses and pulse-based products

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

A growing world population paired with a meat consumption in Western civilisations beyond recommendations burden the environment. Sustainable food systems have been expedited as a possible solution for current and future challenges in environmental, socio-economical, and health aspects. A healthy diet for a sustainable future, as defined by the EAT-Lancet Commission, requires reducing the amount of consumed red meat and processed foods but driving the consumption of vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Pulses are the dried seeds from leguminous plants and a traditional food consumed in many cultures around the globe. The crops have
exceptional potential for promoting the shift towards a plant-based diet while
ensuring food security in a sustainable food system. Despite their benefits, the utilisation of pulses as a food source in developed countries is very limited. The aim is thus to retrieve pulses from relative neglect by building culturally competent strategies to promote pulses based on understanding consumers’ attitudes across different European countries. Current literature reveals the need for quantitative studies to assess consumer attitudes towards pulses, which this PhD research addresses by a large-scale pan-European survey and a followup consumer acceptance study as part of the experimental work.

Consumption of pulses relates to the historical availability of animal protein. According to the familiarity with and consumption of pulses, four consumer segments with distinctive sociodemographic characteristics were identified. Pulse utilisation was found to be below recommendations in the countries investigated, i.e., Denmark, Germany, Poland, Spain, and the UK, with a limited diversity between the different types of pulses. In the past, some types have certainly received more attention than others, with lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, and peas being the most popular pulse types among survey respondents. Besides the traditional use in dried or canned form, the observed willingness to try sprouted and fermented pulses, which are mentioned for preferable nutritional quality, opens new perspectives for future produce.

Consumers’ associations with pulses were related to naturalness, health, and taste, as well as to be filling. Although most respondents were driven to consume pulses due to health and taste characteristics, unappealing sensory properties were yet a consumption barrier for others. Digestive problems, such as flatulence, and the lack of knowledge of how to prepare pulses were additionally hindering the consumption. Cross-cultural as well as cross-segmental differences in consumption drivers and barriers were observed after precise analysis. Hence, strategies and developments aiming to promote pulses cannot be generalised but should be tailored according to the characteristics of the target population. Environmental related drivers seemed to be intangible for consumers, playing a minor role compared to attributes of pulses’ healthiness or taste. Thereby, pulses are a particularly suitable food in the context of sustainable diets, with low greenhouse gas emissions due to the plants’ self-fertilisation abilities. The implemented life cycle assessment evidenced the overall low climate impact regardless of the type or produce of pulses being far lower compared to meat production. The ascription of pulses as a possible replacement for meat is though less prominent than the attention given to cultured meat, insects, or meat resembling plant-based foods. Nonetheless, more than one third of pulse consumers were currently using the crops instead of animal-based products, mainly due to health, environmental, and sustainability reasons. With a view to a future of accelerated development of plant-based alternatives, consumers expected products from pulses to be natural, tasty, available at a good price, environmentally friendly produced, and convenient. Generally, plain pulses were stated to be preferred over processed products.

Being familiar with a food helps to reduce perceived risk and uncertainty so that new products based on typical foods might receive wider acceptance. Black bean and faba bean spreads were thus developed based on the findings of being relatively and very unfamiliar to consumers and tested against a chickpea-based, hummus-like spread. Thereby additional information, with the hypothesis of environmental benefits having a lower impact than health benefits, increased expectations and liking of the new pulse-based products. However, environmental information was found to be similarly important as health information, pointing towards a lack of consumers’ knowledge about the environmental benefits of pulses. Solely for the case of perceived low sensory quality, as observed for the faba bean spread, additional information on health or environmental benefits was irrelevant. In a discrete choice experiment, findings stressed the importance of previous tastings, i.e., intrinsic properties such as sensory characteristics, highly influencing the participant’s choice. Overall, the findings of this work demonstrate the potential of pulses as sustainable food being underutilised and underappreciated in terms of environmental benefits by European consumers. Consumer attitudes based on solid, large-scale investigations have contributed to the identification of the reasons for this underutilisation, which were not well-known before. In light of these advances, strategies to tackle the low consumption through communication and increased awareness about these shortcomings may be developed.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCopenhagen
PublisherDepartment of Food Science, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
Number of pages176
ISBN (Print)978-87-94336-28-4
Publication statusPublished - 2022

ID: 332929333