The triple requirement of food products: spirulina as an example

During her PhD thesis at the ESA in Angers, which she defended on the 15th June 2020, Chloé THOMAS studied the development of food products by combining profitability, consumer expectations and environmental concerns. This “eco-quality design” was developed on spirulina-based products.

Companies are increasingly focusing on the development of food products that not only involves a business strategy but also consumer expectations and environmental concerns. Present literature suggests different methods for working on these topics, although each is considered independently. The novelty in Chloé THOMAS’ PhD work, carried out at the ESA Angers and defended on the 15th June 2020, arises in the simultaneous implementation of a consumer approach and of an eco-design approach. As a result, an innovation process is recommended by involving the use of specific tools in order to master the eco-quality design of food products. This research study was based on the development of spirulina-based products.


This PhD work began with a Stage-gate® type innovation process involving in five stages during which decision support tools (multi-criteria grid type), consumer-monitoring (concept testing, iterative co-creation, consumer testing), and environmental assessment (life cycle analysis) were employed in parallel.

Figure 1 illustrates the process applied to the development of spirulina-based products.

Figure 1 : Innovation process and mobilized and adapted tools (source: Chloé Thomas)

The first stage, called ideation, aims at generating ideas for future products. Prior to this stage, an introductory session allowed for each participant to receive the same level of information regarding the market, the strategy of the company and consumer trends. As a result, after a large number of pre-designs were identified, a sorting process followed and a final choice was made; in this particular study, preference was given to products with a popular rating or with a significant feasibility rate for the company. This ideation step terminated with a multi-criteria grid (35 weighted criteria), containing environmental aspects (life cycle analysis), marketing aspects and economic feasibility aspects. This grid serves as a decision support tool in the prioritization of the selected pre-designs.

The second step is a conceptualization phase. It involves the recording of marketing sheets for the previously prioritized pre-designs. These marketing concepts comprise a comprehensive description of the characteristics and benefits of a pre-design which should meet the expectations of a consumer target. Two focus groups were associated to each design in order to validate, with consumers, the transition towards the next development stage.  For this, a few adjustments might be made to best meet their expectations.

The third step is an iterative and co-creative development. The prototypes resulting from the conceptualization stage were produced by the company, then tested by consumers, and readjusted by the company according to observations made during the focus groups. They were then resubmitted to the consumer group until an ultimate satisfactory product was obtained (in the present case, 3 iterations led to the final design). Since the company could not develop all the prototypes of interest, environmental analyses and a multi-criteria grid were concomitantly performed on these prototypes in order to assist the company in prioritizing the developments.

This is then followed by a two-level validation step. The first level involves validation by “naïve” consumers who had never encountered or taken part in the co-creation of the products. Thanks to this qualitative validation, it has become possible to predict the extent to which the products are appreciated and to make the necessary modifications. Via a consumer test under controlled conditions, the second level involves a quantitative evaluation of the product and of its packaging (190 people in the present study).

Finally, the last stage involves the launching on the market of the products that have been validated by this process.


During the ideation step, around forty pre-designs were obtained after a first sorting step, 8 preconcepts were preselected. A further selection using LCA tools and multicriteria grids enabled the company to identify three pre-designs.

During the developmental stage, the sensoriality of spirulina was improved by mixing it with other foods until it became acceptable to consumers. The general results from these focus groups imply that the green colour of spirulina strongly affects the product as a whole. Indeed, due to sensory adequacy the final product was better accepted if it also included other green ingredients (e.g. cucumber). Furthermore, its sticky texture was absorbed into the matrix, along with its distinct smell. Spirulina aromas are finally weakly detected or only arise as an after-taste. After three iterations between the focus group and R&D, about 18 recipes were selected for each of the three concepts. Ultimately, this strategy led to a significant impact on product choices. For example, if it was hardly appreciated, a concept B product was chosen for reasons of range strategy. At the end of this stage, the company selected 2 to 3 recipes per concept. Such a co-creative development allowed for all prototypes to be tested and more importantly adapted according to the expectations of targeted consumers.

For the first validation step, eighteen “naïve” consumers were part of the focus groups. The presented results focus on the first concept for which a modification of the packaging was made following the group’s remarks; doubts were also expressed concerning the green colour of the products in particular. The products have thus benefited from the novel point of view of “naive” consumers for further improvement.

The second validation step, where a panel of 190 consumers was assembled, allowed for the acceptance of the first concept to be evaluated: this was estimated as a 70% purchase intention, with doubts expressed towards one of the two recipes due to the green colour shift from the colour of the original product. Overall, for the first concept, recipe 1 received a score of 5.5 +/- 2 and recipe 2 a score of 6.9 +/- 1.5.

In general, this hedonic test statistically confirmed the trends observed with the validation focus group. In addition, open-ended questions (qualities, faults) made it possible to either explain or presume the reasons for certain discrepancies between appreciation scores.


How can a company’s strategy, consumer expectations, and environmental issues be combined for a food product innovation process?

The answer lies in the relationship between these three dimensions throughout the innovation process thanks to a clear, short and agile methodology such as Stage-gate®; this is combined with a structuring multi-criteria decision support tool and involves frequent interactions between the consumers, the company’s R&D and marketing teams and the environment.

This innovation process provides operational and methodological avenues for agrifood companies wishing to innovate sustainably. The results obtained after the second validation step in a hedonic test confirm the significance of this methodology for the development of innovative food products.

This methodology has so far been tested on a single study case and would need to be adapted to the context of each business and innovation project.

Références :

Posters :

  • Adoption of a disruptive food : a qualitative survey on organic consumers’ representations and perceptions of Spirulina, november 2018, Chloé THOMAS1, Ronan SYMONEAUX1, Gaëlle PANTIN-SOHIER2, Pierre PICOUET1, Isabelle MAITRE1*, 1 USC 1422 GRAPPE – INRA, Groupe ESA, SFR QUASAV, 49007 Angers, France, 2 GRANEM Sustainable consumer-driven process applied to food product innovations : an empiric study, July 2019, Chloé THOMAS, Isabelle MAITRE *, Pierre PICOUET, Ronan SYMONEAUX, USC 1422 GRAPPE – INRA, Groupe ESA, SFR QUASAV, 49007 Angers, France, *

Conference paper :

  • Des perceptions variées de la spiruline à la co-création d’un produit avec les consommateurs, october 2019, Chloé Thomas*, Ronan Symoneaux, Pierre Picouet, Isabelle Maître**, USC 1422 GRAPPE, Ecole Supérieure d’Agricultures (ESA), SFR 4207 QUASAV, INRA, Université Bretagne Loire, 55 rue Rabelais, 49007 Angers, France, * : ** :

Articles :

  • Perceptions of spirulina from French consumers of organic products, may 2020, Chloé Thomas1, Ronan Symoneaux1, Gaëlle Pantin-Sohier2, Pierre Picouet1, Isabelle Maître1*, 1 Contractual Unit 1422 GRAPPE, INRAE, Ecole Supérieure d’Agricultures (ESA), Federative Research Structure 4207 QUASAV, Angers, France, 2 Angevin Research Group in Economics and Management (GRANEM), Training and research Unit in law, economics and management, Angers University, Angers, France,*, HAL Id:hal-02615769, Implementing LCA early in food innovation processes: Study on spirulina-based food products, may 2020, Journal of Cleaner Production 268:121793, Chloé Thomas1, Ronan Symoneaux1, Cécile Grémy-Gros2, Aurélie Perrin3, Isabelle Maître1, 1 Contractual Unit 1422 GRAPPE, INRAE, Ecole Supérieure d’Agricultures (ESA), Federative Research Structure 4207 QUASAV, Angers, France, 2 Unisersity of Anger, 3 EVEA

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