As part of a doctoral thesis with Norwegian research centre Nofima, researcher Morten Heide conducted five separate studies on the different factors that influence consumers when deciding whether to buy food and drink.
One key finding for processed food manufacturers was that, no matter the quality of the product, consumer satisfaction is greatly impacted by how happy they are with their own preparation of the food.
“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 said.
This finding is of particular importance given Heide’s second key finding – convenience is king.
Anything that can make food easier to prepare is therefore a plus, be it changes to the product itself – removing bones or skin from fish – or the packaging, such as clarifying cooking instructions or creating online tutorial videos.
These findings were especially true among younger people, said Heide, who recruited around 2,500 consumers in Norway, Spain and France to take part in the studies.
Taste or freshness
And while taste is also said to be one of the most important food attributes, there are some categories for which it is less important to draw attention to taste.
When asked to give their opinion on cod products, most said it was not important to have an on-pack description of the taste.
“Fresh fish remains at the top of [French] consumers’ aspirations regarding fish. However, a short label indicating that fish was directly frozen after catch and thawed directly before they were put on the retailers’ displays may lead to an improvement of the image of convenient cod fillet products that undergo extensive processing in order to reach consumers with minor quality compromises,” writes Heide in his thesis.
Similarly, Norwegian consumers rated freshness as the most important attribute when buying cod, and this information was seen as more important when it was cognitive (i.e. shelf life or ‘filleted and packed within six hours’) rather than affective or emotional (such as ‘unique freshness’).
The findings highlight the importance of segmenting consumers based on how they evaluate different products or individual characteristics, Heide said, and could be useful to manufacturers or retailers when developing products or marketing strategies.
Taste and quality are the most important criteria for older consumers when buying premium products for a special occasion but younger generations have other priorities.
Heide divided consumers into four segments – perfectionists, premium, luxury-seeking and value focused – and found that consumers in the luxury segment prefer products with high prestige quality, uniqueness and social benefits while those in the premium segment are more attracted to food quality and price.
What’s more, there is a generational divide.
“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.”
Source: Doctoral thesis
“The influence of product, contextual and individual characteristics on food evaluation.”
Faculty of Biosciences, Fisheries and Economics; School of Business and Economics, University of Tromsø
Author: Morten Heide