What's important to food shoppers? Jam in their doughnuts and tasty vegan options

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/GummyBone
©GettyImages/GummyBone

Related tags: vegan, Plastic, Packaging, Supermarket, Morrisons, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Doughnut

A software company has analysed 'Twitter noise' to determine the food trends important to today's UK shopper.

Morrisons customers want more jam in their doughnuts; Waitrose shoppers love the taste of its vegan products; Asda consumers request vegan and free-from products more than buyers at other supermarkets.

These are just some of the insights from a Twitter analysis report​ of six of the UK’s biggest supermarkets: Asda, Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

Vegan food, plastic and packaging, sustainability and palm oil are hot topics amoung consumers, according to the analysis, which was carried out by software companies Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB) and Warwick Analytics. The report used AI techniques to categorise Twitter data captured between December 2018 and April 2019 and identify the key themes for that period. Customer tweets were analysed using a natural language processing tool called PrediCX, with the volume of twitter messages remaining fairly constant at around 10,000 records per week.

Morrisons and the jam-less doughnuts

Analysing the word frequencies in the messages quickly revealed an issue with the jam filling in Morrisons doughnuts, said S4RB’s report. Morrisons customers were reporting concerns that doughnuts which were labelled as containing jam in fact contained custard or no filling at all.

Lifestyle ranges create the most Twitter noise

Tweets referencing vegan and vegetarian products were a top five theme for all the supermarket retailers in terms of number of mentions and was the most popular at Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, said the report.

Waitrose lead the field for positive discussion about its meat-free offering and Asda and Co-op trailed behind in the area of taste, it discovered. Asda customers requested vegan and free-from products more than others.

Palm oil a cause for concern

But while Waitrose was lauded for its tasty vegan food, its customers were less happy about palm oil in its products.

Palm oil is a hot topic in retail at the moment and consumers are increasingly vocal with demands to use sustainable palm oil or eradicate it from products altogether​,” the analysis noted.

Waitrose’s Twitter ‘heatmap’ suggested a ‘small but significant’ number expressing concern about the ingredients in the supermarket's bakery items.

“We can see that the negative feedback is specifically about the inclusion of palm oil in Waitrose’s mince pies and hot cross buns,” ​the report explained. “There is no doubt that Waitrose is making strides towards the reduction of palm oil in their own brand productsbut our analysis highlights this as an area that is still a cause for concern and a source of disappointment for their customers.”

Waitrose Mince Pies - copyright waitrose
Shoppers are concerned about palm oil in Waitrose mice pies and hot cross buns ©Waitrose

Plastic and packaging peeves

Excess plastic packaging also irked supermarket goers, the report noted. Sainsbury’s, for example, found itself at the heart of a particular ‘Twitterstorm’ in April of this year after a coordinated attack by Greenpeace on Sainsbury’s regarding the amount of plastic in its packaging generated over four times as many messages than average, dwarfing all other topics on that day.

Waitrose was also embroiled in a Twitter storm that started on 8 April regarding the labelling of some of its chocolate. In this case, 'a racist' chocolate duck.

The spike began on the 9th after a Waitrose apology but continued until the 10th when it died away,”​ the report observed. “Further analysis of the tweets on the 9th, show that a considerable amount were a reaction against the initial offence, supporting Waitrose and objecting to their earlier apology​.”

Sainsbury's reusable bag - copyright Sainsbury's
Sainsbury's introduced a reusable produce bag this autumn after an earlier Twitter storm highlighted the plastics problem ©Sainsbury's

Ethics are important to shoppers

Corporate social responsibility is clearly important to shoppers, the report noted. For example, Tesco received more than twice the average number of messages on 15 March in response to reports that it had erected netting at some of its stores to prevent birds from nesting, specifically swallows. “Additionally, when we isolate the churn indicators, it shows that those willing to boycott Tesco are boycotting specific stores in the areas where the bird netting was placed.”

The report also tracked complaints relating to foreign objects and unwanted ingredients in food.

With a total of 7,077 tweets on this topic, the research found that the most complained about products across all six retailers were sandwiches containing hairs, vegetables containing bugs and prepared meats containing bones.

'A customer feedback channel which should not be ignored by retailers'

Twitter isn’t always associated with outrage, however. S4RB’s report suggested the social media site can play an important role in NPD. “There are strong positive signals regarding how happy people are that certain lifestyle products are in stock, followed closely by other positive experiences​,” it said.

James Butcher, S4RB’s CEO commented: “This report showcases the depth of insight now available. We were able to find out that many Asda customers want more choice, Waitrose perform well when it comes to taste and Morrisons customers want more jam in their doughnuts.

“It’s widely acknowledged that social media is used as a customer feedback channel which should not be ignored by retailers. However, the unsolicited and unstructured format means it has yet to be utilised to its full potential.

“It’s exciting for us to prove that product management by Twitter is indeed possible. It’s not just limited to Twitter analysis either as brand developers and brand managers can use AI to analyse any form of text, from Trustpilot and online customer feedback, to call centre notes.”

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