“Food manufacturers should help consumers”
If you want to succeed as a food manufacturer, you need to make sure that consumers can avoid kitchen disasters involving your product.
Researcher Morten Heide in Nofima has done his PhD on how consumers evaluate food. He has conducted five different studies to investigate the factors that affect us when we evaluate the food we buy and eat.
Last week he defended his doctorate at the University of Tromsø – Norway’s Arctic University.
In total, around 2500 consumers in Norway, Spain and France participated in the different studies.
It is important to have knowledge about how consumers evaluate food in order to succeed with product development, and to develop and promote healthy products. Heide has used different research methods in the different studies in order to illuminate how consumers evaluate food.
Happy food preparers
A key finding is that the consumer’s satisfaction with their own preparation of the product greatly impacts the evaluation. The researcher believes it is important for businesses to know this when they test new products that require preparation before they are eaten. The more able a manufacturer is to ensure that the consumer is satisfied with the result, the more successful a product will be in the market.
“If your cooking fails, you are less likely to buy the product again. If you find it too difficult to get a good result with this product, you are unlikely to try it again. Many companies are very focused on testing the taste of new products, and are not very concerned about whether consumers achieve this taste in their kitchens. My research indicates that perhaps they should reconsider this focus”, Heide says.
He thinks it is especially important to include this element for products that are somewhat difficult to prepare or that must be prepared in an unfamiliar way.
Convenience is also an important factor, particularly among younger consumers. For example, they prefer fish without skin or bones, and want to be able to do the cooking quickly.
“The point is that manufacturers should consider whether anything can be done with the product to make it easier to prepare, or provide even better instructions for preparation on the package or through online instructional videos. It may be worthwhile to test this out more, to see whether consumers manage to prepare the food in the way the manufacturer presumes”, Heide recommends.
Heide has worked for Nofima since 2001 and his research interests have all along been in consumer evaluation of food, product development, consumer behaviour and industrial buying behaviour.
When it comes to evaluation of food, there is an infinite number of factors that come into play. Heide therefore had to choose to narrow his research to be able to test specific things.
Among the things he has look at in particular are consumers use and trust in product information, the degree to which they care about package design, and also how they evaluate the food they buy for special occasions versus more low-cost, everyday food. Four of the studies focused on seafood, while the last study focused on food in general with a particular emphasis on luxury foods.
Health and freshness are important
In general, taste is one of the most important food-evaluation criterion, but Heide has also done tests where taste was the least important criterion. In these, the consumer saw photos of various cod products, with information about the product below the picture. It turned out that consumers do not find it important to have information about the taste of cod on the packaging. Despite this, one of the most exclusive supermarket chains in England uses descriptions of taste in its marketing of cod.
The researcher also looked at the importance of health and freshness, and to some extent at what kind of situation the food is served in. For example, whether it is tested at home or in a cafeteria.
For the packaging of cod fillets, consumers were generally more interested in freshness and the best-before date than the package design and the visual expression.
It is also important to tailor products to different consumer groups.
“When consumers are buying food for special occasions, some want a product with high quality and price, which is exciting to eat. Others are not concerned with quality and price, but would rather have a product that is perceived as luxurious, unique and that gives them status. When developing products for different groups, one should tailor both the product itself and the marketing to different consumer groups”, Heide says.
In the luxury market, it turns out that the taste and quality of the product is most important for older consumers.
“For younger consumers, status seems to be more important than taste when it comes to luxury food. Put differently: It is not as important for them to like Russian caviar as it is to serve it. Those concerned with taste and quality will choose luxury products by these criteria”, says the newly-minted doctor.