Developing innovative and healthy foods is one of the biggest challenges of the industry. As consumer demands for certain types of food rise, the industry must find new ways to provide them while also maintaining food security and sustainability. Kate Pilkington, a final year BSc Food Technology and Product Development student, has been engaging with part of the innovative food sector, asking questions around the appearance and labelling of vegetarian and vegan products.
Kate gave an overview of her dissertation study. She explained: “I am working to find out about consumers' opinions on whether meat alternatives should look and be called meat.
“Having worked on a beef and sheep farm for many years, I was inspired to do this because I have never understood why people that do not want to consume meat would want their food to look like meat and be labelled with meat names.”
Kate’s study is taking a balanced approach, asking a variety of different groups for their opinions. She said: “I will be looking at both sides of the arguments from carnivores to reduced meat eaters like flexitarians to non-meat eaters like vegan and vegetarians. Doing so will help me gain a large understanding of what different diets might think about the idea.
“When I decided on my topic, I didn’t really know what to expect with the data. I thought that carnivores would be very against the idea about making meat alternatives look like meat. From the results gathered it has shown they are.
However, I thought that the vegan and vegetarians would be for having them look like meat, whereas the results have found they are not. Overall, the results have been very interesting with both carnivores and vegans agreeing that meat alternatives should not look and be labelling after animal meat products.”
Undertaking this work from home has been a breeze for Kate. She shared: “It has been fairly easy to adapt to working from home because I have been able to contact all my lecturers when I needed to. Where possible, I have had a number of phone calls with them to go over information that was not easy to explain over email. The lecturers have been very open with the fact that if we had any problems, we could contact them at any time via email or through Microsoft Teams.“
Kate’s opinion based research is closely linked to her studies during her time at Harper. She commented: “The research links into product development processes because customers demand certain products and the manufactures follow what the customer wants. Therefore, even though the results have found that people do not want meat alternatives to look and be called meat there must have been research by manufactures that agree it should be.
“All of this relates back to my degree; I have learnt about how to conduct valid research and use that research to write academic reports. As well as writing and conducting research, a number of my topics have helped with writing my dissertation. Learning about how the product development process works means my research could be implemented if it was taken to the next stage of redesigning meat alternatives. Equally, understanding customers' behaviour in relation to purchasing habits has been incredibly useful as this affects the way people decide one which products they buy and why.”
Having a varied and hands on experience is what we do best at Harper, inviting our students to try their hand at all parts of the industry to find their passion in the sector. For Kate, this variation was one of the highlights of her degree. She explained: “There are so many different aspects of the food industry - and not just the ones related to your course title - that you get to experience throughout your years at Harper.
“I have been able to go on many different trips including going to Holland in my second year, visiting HAS University. Seeing their innovations was really inspiring. We also had the opportunity to see a distillery, aquaculture farm and a chicken processing centre while out in Holland too.”
Much of her learning was put into practice when Kate undertook her placement year. Working for Boddington’s Berries based in Mevagissey, Cornwall, Kate had a great year. She said: “I had a fantastic experience and loved every minute. The placement was very useful because I worked in so many different aspects of the company; from working at trade and consumer shows to delivery orders to designing and creating a Christmas line of preserves where one went on to win silver at the Taste of the West Awards.
“From working in many areas, I have learnt which areas of the industry I like and which I do not. This wouldn’t have been possible without a placement year and would be even harder to find a job after graduating without the experience I now have.”
With this experience, Kate will be returning to Boddington’s Berries in August as a Senior Events and Marketing Assistant. She is looking forward to going back.
Now drawing towards the end of her university experience, Kate looked back on her time at university, thinking about the things she wished she had known. She advised to not be deterred, saying: “I thought I was never going to go to university because I struggle with academic work with my dyslexia. However, as soon as I came to an open day, I knew I wanted to be here.
“The support is fantastic for my learning needs but also for transitioning to move away from home. The good thing is that on your first day everyone is in the same boat as you - all scared and not knowing anyone. The halls you live in in first year help you make new friends and the wardens in the halls get you interacting with everyone which helps relieve the stress and anxiety. Try and meet as many people as possible and you’ll certainly make friends for life.”
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