Eye Tracking Technology In Horticulture

Gail Chiasson, North American Editor

This is somewhat different from what we usually hear about eye tracking technology: Usually it involves some kind of digital screen measuring viewers of the content and, especially, the advertising.

But new technology at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Vineland, Ontario, is working to help decode consumer choices and grow market share for Canadian products.

Here, researchers are studying eye movement to see what packaging, and particularly what horticultural products draw consumers’ eyes. Dr. Isabelle Lesschaeve, research director, consumer insights and product innovation, and Dr. Ben Campbell, horticultural economist, are breaking new ground in the application of eye tracking technology to products such as ornamental plants, flowers, wine, fruit and vegetables.

“Eye tracking technology gives a detailed behavioural understanding of what consumers really want opposed to what they say they want, a common challenge with the traditional survey approach,” says Dr. Lesschaeve. “With this technology, we are able to see exactly what consumers are looking at during their shopping experience. This information provides valuable insight for growers and retailers into how to develop successful marketing and pricing strategies.”

The first eye tracking program at Vineland is part of a larger ornamental and vegetable plant study that will collect data from consumers at six locations across North America. Collaboration between Vineland, Purdue University, Michigan State University, Texas A&M University, University of Minnesota and University of Florida will provide information on consumer attitudes, behaviours and demographic characteristics.

For this study, Vineland is specifically concerned with labelling and the display of ornamental and vegetable plants. Information will be gained on where best to put information on a display or label to better attract the consumer’s attention. The study will also determine if consumers in Ontario vs. the United States are using different visual cues to purchase an ornamental or vegetable plant.

“Understanding the marketplace and the consumer is essential to building a healthy and sustainable horticulture industry,” says Jim Brandle, CEO of the Vineland Centre. “Growers in Canada produce some of the best fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants in the world. Using eye tracking technology will help horticulture businesses focus their marketing strategies and most importantly maximize product value and market share. Vineland is investing in this technology and the related expertise for the long-term,”

In this initial phase, the eye movements of consumers in the Burlington and Niagara regions are tested via photos and scenarios shown on a computer screen rather than on digital signage. However, we’ll be watching to see how it progresses and how it translates for marketers.

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