Detailed mapping of human and animal behavior

Published: 12-11-2015, | Member: Noldus Information Technology

State-of-the-art image analysis has significantly improved our understanding of human and animal behavior through detailed mapping of responses to food. The technology has proven very useful for food product launches and for optimizing animal feed rationing. Noldus Information Technology supplies the hardware and mapping software, and can even be hired to analyze the results.

“The flop rate of new food products is extremely high,” says Lucas Noldus, founder and CEO of Noldus Information Technology. “You can boost your innovation success rate tremendously if you know how consumers are going to respond. Our technology can give you that insight. We know from experience how to apply technology in order to gather reliable data.”

Noldus Information Technology is specialized in IT solutions for analysis of human and animal behavior. The company is headquartered in Wageningen and has offices in France, Germany, Spain, Hungary, USA, Canada and China. It employs 130 people, with 40 in R&D. “We’re very innovation-oriented and work closely with universities, research institutions and businesses from all over the world,” CEO Noldus says. Later this year, the company will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Behavioral research
Market research is an integral part of product development. After product launch, however, it often turns out that market research failed to predict consumers’ response. In the store, shoppers react differently than expected. Noldus points to weaknesses in the research itself. “Market research usually involves questionnaires,” he said. “But traditional questionnaires have a great drawback. People tend to give socially desirable responses. Our technology enables us to identify how consumers will really respond to a new product or different packaging.”

To this end Noldus IT records video footage of consumer responses, either in a controlled environment or on site. People are video tracked to see how they behave in front of supermarket shelves and in the store as a whole. Special software then analyzes these images to generate accurate and reliable information about consumers’ non-verbal responses, choice behavior, or spatial behavior and dwell time in the store. Noldus IT also creates software that analyzes emotions based on facial expressions.

These solutions are not only useful for consumer behavior research, but also to analyze the behavior of cows, pigs and other farm animals. “We believe our technology can be of great use to cattle farmers,” Noldus says. “We’re currently working with a feed manufacturer, using behavior analyses to develop individual feeding schedules. That will improve animal welfare and hence productivity.”

Noldus started out by supplying software and behavior analysis applications to universities and research institutes. Their customers included Wageningen UR and TNO in The Netherlands and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA. Major players in the food industry, like Unilever, Nestle and Mars, soon followed suit.

“Our equipment gives companies a better understanding of consumers’ experience,” explains Micha Oudakker, Consultancy Manager at Noldus IT. “Obviously, SMEs would also profit from that kind of knowledge, but the cost of such research can be an obstacle. Therefore, we’re now offering a new type of service. Companies can rent our equipment or use the facilities in Wageningen where we have a test lab with various set-ups for testing products or packaging. We also have a test panel they can use. And we can help companies analyze and interpret their video images.”

Making impact
Noldus IT is involved in various national and international collaboration projects to increase knowledge and develop new technology in this field. One of those is FOCOM, a four-year study into the interaction between the brain and food. A consortium of companies is studying what happens in the human brain when humans see, choose or eat certain food products and how much pleasure they derive from this. This knowledge may be able to help identify early signs of a propensity for obesity, for example.

Noldus believes in open innovation. “Complex R&D projects benefit from the inspiration born of collaboration. Being part of a network like Food Valley’s is a great opportunity to meet potential new business partners,” he says. “It gives us access to complementary knowledge. I believe openness is key in that context. Together we can make a greater impact.”

Noldus Information Technology