Johanna Mörlein: studying consumer acceptance


“We urgently need to turn the strictly scientific perspective to a relevant and practical one.”

Johanna Mörlein is a researcher at the University of Göttingen. She studied agriculture at the University of Göttingen and at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Since 2010 she is involved in sensory perception studies on boar taint.

What was your PhD thesis about?

“Mainly it was about how humans perceive boar taint and how professional testers can be objectively trained. Chemical methods allow us to measure any concentration we want but in the end it is the human being that is eating and evaluating the meat. Nowadays, professional testers are analyzing and signaling boar tainted meat. We need these trained testers  to calibrate chemical methods for boar taint analysis. But we have to consider that consumers are naïve, they experience meat products in real life situations without framing and, of course, without training. This makes that the consumer boar taint signaling differs from professional testers. This makes using trained testers a worst-case scenario for studying consumer acceptance.”

Can you tell us a bit more about consumer rejections of tainted meat?

“In designing consumer studies the environmental context has to be considered, because so called central location tests (CLT) in a controlled sensory lab, in individual booths, reflects a worst case scenario. Because one cannot compare such eating situations with real life eating situations.”

“We did several studies from classic CLT-tests with the single product (kotelett), to meal studies with high fat products and home use tests.  In all these studies we did not observe high rejections of tainted meat. Most of the times we were discussing about a difference in rating between for example 6.1 versus 6.5. This can be a statistically significant difference. But the more important question is whether this is a relevant difference. What does this difference mean? We urgently need to turn the strictly scientific perspective to a relevant and practical one. I want to share an example on this: we know that Skatole is also present in sows, sometimes at very high concentration levels. My personal experience is that consumer rejections are mostly related to sows with high Skatole levels and they are on the market since forever. Castrating boars will not eliminate tainted meat, as sow meat can also be tainted, so we have to look in other directions.”

What did you learn from talking with consumers?

“Next to quantitative studies, we organized focus groups. These qualitative studies help us to better understand the consumer perspective on alternatives to castration. Focus group sessions revealed that raising boars was quite well accepted by organic consumers. For consumers, raising boars is quite natural, and easy to understand when explained. And many of these organic consumers revealed a higher tolerance level for tainted meat from boars. On of them stated:  ‘I have eaten tainted meat from wild boar and it’s okay, it just happened’. These are interesting insights that we can build on.”