Meat quality concerns: which on-pack messages are most convincing?

The UK’s meat market could be flooded with cheaper produce as a result of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, The Independent has reported in the beginning of February. If this happens, controversial products such as imported chlorinated chicken and beef with added hormones might make their way to British supermarket shelves.

Take chlorinated chicken in particular. Washing chicken in chlorine and other disinfectants to remove harmful bacteria has been banned by the European Union since 1997 over food safety concerns. This has stopped imports of US chicken meat, which is generally treated by this process. The BBC has commented in March last year that chlorine washing is not itself harmful but a concern exists that when it comes to meat, the practice allows poorer hygiene elsewhere in the production process. Conversely, chlorine-rinsed bagged salads are common in the UK as they are not found to pose the same threat.

Regardless of the level of awareness about these implications, we have found out that perceptions of chlorine-washed poultry is markedly negative. A split steer we ran in July last year showed a 15% difference in propensity to buy raw chicken as a result of the word ‘chlorinated’ added to the description:

A split-by-description steer is a blind test which shows a different description to each of two consumer subsets. In a situation where consumers are able to compare the descriptions side-by-side, the popularity of chlorinated chicken is likely to be even lower as attention is explicitly drawn to the issue.  However, it is highly unlikely that a product would be labelled as chlorine washed, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish between a range of options. UK manufacturers could therefore look to find an effective way to communicate that their poultry is not processed using this method, so that they can successfully compete with cheaper imports.

To solve this problem, it is best to firstly understand what consumers are looking for when buying raw meat (including poultry). We ran a multi-answer steer to a nationally representative (NatRep) sample so that the figures are weighted and representative of all UK adults of working age (18-65). The graph below is a ranking of six factors based on the percentage of votes each has collected:

Two factors stand out with over 40% of votes, ‘free range’ and ‘no harmful bacteria’. Free range chicken comes at a price, which might discourage a large proportion of consumers from buying it. In 2017 Farmdrop reported that free range birds account for just 5% of UK chicken production and, at an average price of £9.50, are around three times the price of a standard chicken.

Even when opting for a cheaper product, however, many people will be worried about what they perceive as a direct negative impact on their health. Packaging text needs to be able to put such worries to rest. We ran a series of four split-by-description steers, which aim to measure unconscious choices rather than stated preferences. The method gives confidence in determining what will actually make a difference at point of purchase. The ranking below is sourced from comparing all results:

Consumers hold high expectations for UK produced food, as confirmed by the top three proposed descriptors. Red Tractor is the UK’s largest food standards scheme, described on its website as covering animal welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental protection. While it covers the messages of the remaining two top claims, a risk exists that consumers do not recognise or trust the Red Tractor mark. For this reason we ran three Vykert steers, which are designed to capture strength of feeling towards given issues.

A Vykert has a scale with 15 steps, each assigned a value from -7, through 0, to +7. Our three steers featured a picture of a packaged raw chicken, each accompanied by one of the proposed three tags. To interpret the results, we examined the medians, and the extremes within the scale, in this case, ‘likely’ and ‘unlikely’. We did so as the remaining values were lower and evenly spread across the scale – a sign for some variability in responses on an overall polarizing issue. The table below compares the three sets of results:

A successful claim has to have a low median score and a high value for ‘unlikely’, due to the way the question is formulated. While ‘traceable’ and ‘product of UK farming’ produced somewhat similar results, ‘Red Tractor’ stood out as more convincing.

Our research has shown that UK origin is important to consumers when it comes to meat products. However, simply stating that a product is traceable and local might not be as convincing as providing an on-pack proof for related certification. According to YouGov data, cited by a Red Tractor press release, food safety hasn’t been a significant concern for UK consumers for a while but due to the changing political and economic landscape, related worries appear to have resurfaced. Going forward, certification such as the Red Tractor label would work best in reassuring consumers and competing with imported produce.

Meat-free stock cubes: could a line extension change consumer preferences?

It’s all about plant-based food at the moment, with reported record number of people having signed up to the Veganuary movement last month. This is reflected by new food launches in the UK, as one in five products have been labelled vegan in 2019 according to Mintel figures

In line with the trend, OXO, the well-known cupboard staple, has designed a new addition to its line-up – a beef flavoured meat-free update of the classic beef cube. Cited by the Guardian, Alex Whitehouse, CEO of Premier Foods (the manufacturer of OXO) has stated that

The whole plant-based eating thing is clearly very important. There was a clear role for a vegan but beef-flavoured cube.

The plant-based food trend is driven by meat reducers who, according to Vypr’s Diet demographic are around 23% of consumers. Those following a strict vegan diet are around 2% of consumers. Considering these circumstances, we were interested in testing how the product would influence the marketplace, in particular whether it has the power to affect sales of older OXO varieties.

We ran two preference steers, the first showing our panel four older stock cube products, comparable with the new addition either in terms of flavour or the meat-free positioning. In the second we included the meat-free option with the intention to finally compare the two result sets. We used a nationally representative sample, which represents working-age adults in the UK, according to gender and age statistics from the last census.

A preference steer shows the products in groups of three until all combinations are exhausted and produces visualisations for exclusive and all preference results. Exclusive preferences are consistent choices of the same product every time it has been shown, while all preferences take into account choices made by consumers who didn’t express a clear exclusive preference for any given option. We looked into exclusive preferences, trying to predict the influence of the new product over consistent choices, in order to understand whether it would influence switching to other options. Below is a comparison of the two results:

Exclusive preferences towards the new option are low, at slightly above 6%. However, its inclusion brings about a decline in preference levels towards Oxo Rich Beef Stock Cubes (-9 percentage points) and Oxo Beef Reduced Salt Stock Cubes (-6 percentage points). There is also an insignificant increase in preferences towards Oxo Vegetable Stock Cubes (+3.6 percentage points).

These results might seem unusual at first, as a meat-free option is not directly related to low salt requirements. However, consumers looking to choose what they consider healthy could switch from the latter to the former. The case with the rich beef stock cubes is somewhat similar. While slightly more than a fifth of consumers are loyal to the original stock cubes, the first and best known Oxo product, many appear to be choosing its novel alternative. Oxo Rich Beef Stock Cubes is a premium option, introduced in 2018 to target indulgence seekers willing to trade up. Subsequently, with the launch of the meat-free variety, a newer beef-flavoured option has become available and some consumers have switched to it.

Looking into preferences by age group helped us understand even better consumers’ motivation to opt for particular products, depending on the choice they were presented with:

 Preferences towards the most indulgent option came from novelty-seeking Millennials (25-34) on the left-hand side. This option fared less well with the same age group when an even newer product was introduced. The meat-free option performed best with Millennials but remained below 10%. However, its inclusion triggered a notable increase in interest towards the vegetable stock cubes within the two youngest consumer groups. Seeing the new product seems to have triggered even stronger preference for the classic vegetable stock (on the right-hand side).

We found out that the new product had a limited appeal but its inclusion triggered some changes in consumer preferences towards other options. However, its popularity is likely to grow in time with vegan food increasingly favoured. Understanding who the early adopters are could help the brand find focus in its marketing efforts. We ran a split-by-image steer to meat reducers, vegetarians and vegans only, in an attempt to find out whether the new option is seen as more attractive than the older vegetable stock, which is meat-free but doesn’t have a beef flavour:

The classic vegetable stock was more successful overall but the new addition managed to prove that it has its place in the booming meat-free market. It performed extremely well with vegan consumers, 93% of whom were likely to buy it, and got an encouraging vote from vegetarians – 86%. Meat reducers, however, didn’t get to the 80% vote threshold, which highlights that the success of this product is unlikely to draw on this group’s purchase decisions, at least initially.

Vegan alternatives to meat products, with flavours imitating meat, are likely to perform best with vegan and vegetarian consumers. A likely reason is that meat reducers supplement their diet with meat and fish, which provide them with the opportunity to experience the taste of meat. However, such new product launches have the power to change preferences towards available product options, especially when it comes to people aged under 35.

Using Vypr, brands can gain deeper insight into the preferences of specific consumer subsets. Steers can be asked to pre-determined consumer segments, and the results additionally filtered by a large range of demographic criteria.

Elections 2019: are the youngest voters thinking differently from everyone else?

Low turnout of young people at elections has been problematic in the past. In 2017 The Guardian wrote that since 2005 youth turnout at UK general election had hovered around the 40% mark. Reasons discussed include distrust towards elites and politicians, as well as passion about an issue rather than a specific party. The article states that when meaningful change is at stake we can expect higher youth turnout.

As the date of 2019 general election is fast approaching, we attempted to measure young people’s intention to vote this time. We ran a single answer steer asking 501 18-24 year olds whether they would vote and obtained the results below:

An overwhelming 70% of young people stated that they would vote, while only 19% would definitely not vote. Interestingly, a quarter were uncertain who they would vote for, but would still vote.

Consumer brands have actively been trying to encourage young people to vote in the past, keen to be seen as relevant and socially engaged. For example, since 2017 cosmetics brand Lush has supported campaigning organisation Rize Up, which aims to convert young non-voters into voters.

For this election Rize Up has seen support from craft beer brewery Drygate, which designed a product dedicated to encouraging young people to vote. A pale ale called #RizeUpUK is sold online with profits from the sales donated to the campaign. In order to understand young people’s attitude towards this approach, we ran a Vykert steer, asking alcohol consumers aged 18 to 24, how appealing they find the product on a scale of -7 to +7:

The result above shows that young consumers are not hugely enthusiastic about the concept, with a median response of +1, meaning that half of the responses were higher and half lower than this value. While around 30% of respondents loved it, 16% hated it and around 27% were mostly neutral.

Having run this test we are sceptical about the effect of this form of consumer brand participation in convincing younger people to vote in this election. As mentioned above, these voters are likely to get involved where key issues are at stake. For the industry, current key issues are mostly related to the environment as well as consumers’ health and income.

The government gets involved in consumer affairs via regulation. The deposit return scheme on drinks, for example, addresses reduction of plastics use and recycling. The tax on sugary sweets is meant to fight obesity but is likely to cause price increases within the segment.

It is interesting whether younger voters think such issues need to be discussed within pre-election campaigns and how their view compares to the view of their older counterparts. We ran two multi-answer steers aiming to measure the relevance of five consumption related topics in the elections, one targeted at 18–24 year olds and the other at 25 years old and up. The graph presents a comparison of the results:

The results show that the youngest voters have quite a typical attitude to current consumption-related problems, if we measure this attitude by the judgement of the remaining, older voters. In both groups’ view reduction of plastics use is the most important issue, with around half of our panel expecting the political party of their choice to address it within its election manifesto. Overall, environmental issues take the top three places, while stability of food and drink prices, which directly affects people’s finances, is only considered as relevant by a third, and even fewer people in the group of 18-24 year olds.

These results highlight the consumption-related issues political parties need to address but can also serve as guidance for brands and retailers in their strategy of building a relevant and positive profile. Ultimately, government and industry should join forces in the common goal of resolving these issues, prioritising what voters see as most important, with age having little relevance in this judgement.

Brussels sprouts innovation – do consumers love it or hate it?

Love them or hate them Brussels sprouts are a ubiquitous part of Christmas dinner. It is thus worrying news that wet weather this year has reportedly caused a shortage of UK-grown sprouts. Fortunately, there are various festive products on the market, dedicated to giving a twist to the controversial vegetable. We selected ten unique offerings and tested consumers’ propensity to buy them using two multi-option steers, which gave us the following results:

The top scorer is a non-edible set of six Christmas crackers, containing cooking-related souvenirs, which suggests that many people might prefer the idea of Brussels sprouts to the actual taste.

However, we were keen to test the vegetable’s potential during the festive season in food and drink in particular, so the rest of our selection was made up of various food and drink items. 

Starting from the bottom, the most disliked product is the Brussels sprouts tea by Sainsbury’s, which left “tea-lovers horrified” last year, when it was launched for Christmas along with a Pigs in Blankets tea variety.

The Brussels sprout ketchup, a brand-new condiment by Sauce Shop, containing about 15 British Brussels sprouts for a 255g bottle, performed only slightly better. Claimed to be a first in the world, it will be sold by Amazon from the beginning of December and might potentially interest the more experimentally minded.

Similarly ranked, with only about a third of consumers likely to buy it, is the Brussels sprout gin, a new offering by Pickering’s. The gin has been distilled using Brussels sprouts sourced from a farm in Scotland, which, together with the distinctive colour and novelty element, makes it a unique but very niche product.

Moving up to slightly more widely accepted options, we come to the Brussels sprout smoothie by M&S, which gained almost 36% of votes. It was launched for Christmas five years ago, marketed as “two of your five a day.” The sprout flavour here is toned-down with apple and pear juice, making up a combination that has given it some longevity on M&S shelves in the festive season.

With almost 39% of votes, the Brussels sprout dust for roasts is a new product, marketed as “perfect for pimping up the well renowned boring sprouts for your traditional Sunday Roasts”. This is an attractive yet niche product, which would mainly be bought for gifting.

Having scored more than 40% of votes each, the remaining three food items could potentially gain mass market appeal. The Marmite sprouts is a frozen product, launched last year by Iceland, produced by Unilever in “an effort to rekindle the UK’s love of sprouts”. Interestingly, this was Marmite’s first frozen licensed launch, part of the brand’s wider effort to liven up its market presence and create a talking point throughout the festive season.

The vegan chocolate truffle sprouts don’t have real sprouts inside but are instead marketed as a “fun gift for friends and family who usually avoid the sprouts during Christmas dinner” by manufacturer Vegan Chocolatier.

Finally, we arrive at the top food and drink option, which does feature a Brussel sprout flavour – Walkers Brussel sprout crisps, having gained more than 53% of votes. Turning the festive feast staple into a snack has worked well for Walkers. It was launched last year as part of a festive range, also including turkey and stuffing, pigs in blankets, glazed ham and cheese and cranberry varieties. This season, the sprout crisps returned after Walkers had received requests from  fans “desperately searching for them outside of the festive season”. 

This year Walkers built on the initial success by creating two different Christmas dinner-themed multi-packs “to suit all tastes” – Sprout Lovers and Sprout Haters. The former contains Brussels sprout, turkey and stuffing, and pigs in blankets flavours, and the latter – turkey and stuffing, glazed ham, and cheese and cranberry.

We ran a simple choice steer to check whether the lovers’ or haters’ pack is more likely to fly off the shelves and obtained the following results:

While the sprout-free mix prevailed, it was interesting to see that Sprout Lovers gained 31% of preferences, which is a serious success for a more unusual product. We also noticed regional differences in these preferences, with Scotland and Northern Ireland consumers actually preferring the Lovers pack to the Haters.

Brands should not scare off bold innovation as it often presents marketing opportunities, especially around festivities. However, to make sure they have the formula right, they should base it on consumer feedback, which Vypr can help them with. 

The best Christmas sandwiches this year: go crazy or stick to the basics?

This year most UK retailers and food service chains launched their Christmas sarnie ranges in the end of October. Marks & Spencer is offering a variety of twelve sandwiches, including a new vegan option called Nutcracker Sandwich, with a filling of sweet potato, chestnut and cranberry roast, butternut squash, cranberry chutney, pistachios and caramelised pecans. Meat consumers are being enticed by a new Yule Hog roll, as well as a Steak & Peppercorn Sauce sandwich. Brie & Grape filling is used in both a classic vegetarian sandwich and in a gluten-free version.

Food service chains have also introduced a variety of vegetarian Christmas sandwiches. Pret’s Brie, Pistachio & Cranberry and Starbucks’ Very Merry Vegan Wrap with Butternut look particularly interesting. Of course meat lovers still have a lot to choose from – indulgent options, such as Philpotts’ Pigs in Blankets roll, are abundant.

We ran two multi-answer steers in an attempt to rank our mix of commonly-used sandwich fillings, as well as some more novel ones. The combined results are presented below:

The obvious conclusion is that traditional options score highly with consumers when it comes to Christmas sandwiches. An indulgent combination of turkey with pigs in blankets performed best in our test – no wonder the majority of vendors have included it in their Christmas offering in one form or another.

Simplicity also seems to be a theme in this ranking. Over 37% of consumers want a no fuss Turkey Trimmings sandwich. In this context, we noticed that healthier positioning isn’t a winner. The posh-sounding Free-range Turkey & Baby Spinach, as seen in Pret’s menu this year, gained just 22.7% acceptance.

The Yorkshire pudding sandwich performed well, having established itself as a winning combination of traditional cuisine and novel format. Following a last year’s debut, Morrisons decided to bring back its £3 Yorkshire pudding wrapped Christmas sandwich this season.

As for vegetarian options, they mostly underperformed, despite some innovative combinations, such as the bottom two in our ranking. However, Brie & Cranberry, in particular, performed well (33%) with its variation Brie & Grape also showing potential (23%). From these two, only the former managed to enter our top five, qualifying for the preference steer which we ran next:

The results above confirmed the ranking we initially got. The screenshot presents exclusive preferences, where consumers picked the same option every time it was shown, but considering all preferences, which include second and third choices, gives a very similar result.

In this steer Brie & Cranberry topped 15%. Despite not being expressly described as vegetarian, it attracted a larger ratio of vegetarians, vegans and meat reducers (with a combined result of 22%). This classic should certainly be included in Christmas sandwich ranges to respond to specific diet needs, but could it be made more exciting?

We have established above that Brie & Grape is likely to perform relatively well on the market. Perhaps adding grape to the Brie & Cranberry filler could arouse interest? We ran a split-by-description test to vegetarians, vegans and meat reducers only, to see whether these consumers would rather opt for the simpler version or the one with a twist:

The results show that simplicity is a benefit in these choices. With nearly five percentage points more votes, Brie & Cranberry remained our narrow vegetarian winner.

For retailers and food service operators the biggest weapon in the Christmas battle is new product development. In order to get customers to spend, they need to prove differentiation through their own label. However, product developers should aim to strike a balance between the factor of surprise and the intrinsically traditional character of Christmas food. This is when Vypr should be brought into play to test assumptions and screen concepts.

Would a chocolate price hike affect consumer preferences?

Sugar reduction is a big trend, supported by the government and publicised by public health campaigns. The majority of consumers do realise that cutting down on sugar would contribute to better health and weight management. However, compromising on indulgent moments with a chocolate bar of choice is a too big sacrifice for many.  Vypr estimates that almost half of consumers buy chocolate bars and blocks more than once a week. This is based on a single answer steer, asking around 600 consumers how often they have bought chocolate in the last three months:

Almost 35% of consumers buy chocolate once in a few days and nearly 15% – almost every day, adding up to half of our panel regarding chocolate as a regular snack, rather than occasional treat. These consumers could be at a higher risk of sugar related health complications, such as obesity and diabetes.

BMJ publication from the 5th of September suggested that a “snack tax may be more effective than a sugary drink tax to tackle obesity”, a conclusion drawn from substantial research. The BMJ referred to biscuits, cakes, and chocolate sweets as high sugar snacks, recommending a 20% price increase on these products. This recommendation is based on the principles of the sugary drinks tax implemented in April last year, imposing a tax rate equivalent to 24p per litre to soft drinks with more than 8g per 100ml. The government stated that the tax was not intended to directly reduce consumption but to encourage drinks manufacturers to reformulate products to bring their sugar content below the taxable thresholds. In this respect, the tax is viewed as a success a year and a half later, as many sugary drinks have been reformulated. For example, Irn Bru reduced the amount of sugar in their standard product by over 50% and saw sales increase by 8.3%.

We were intrigued to find out how a price increase would change the confectionery market. Big players Cadbury and Nestlé have already come up with chocolate formulations containing less sugar. In July Cadbury launched its Dairy Milk block in a “30% Less Sugar” variant, while Nestlé have just released their KitKat Chunky More – a standard size Chunky bar containing 30% less sugar than its original counterpart as well as “real fruit” and more protein.

Using a Simple Choice steer, we asked our consumer community whether they would pick the classic 110g Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Bar or the 85g Cadbury Dairy Milk with 30% less sugar:

More than half of consumers would stick with the classic option, which highlights chocolate lovers’ unwillingness to compromise indulgent moments in the name of a health benefit. However, 37% of consumers willing to switch to the low sugar version is also a substantial result, confirming that health-minded consumers would also accept a reduction in product size – from 110g to 85g. Size reduction has been a widely used method in confectionery, where reformulation was seen as difficult. 

Product price is an additional factor, whose effect Vypr can measure coming into play. Assuming manufacturers decide to pass a 20% tax onto the end consumer, how would that affect shopping decisions? We ran a Split-by-Description steer, showing a picture of a standard Cadbury chocolate along with two different descriptions to two randomly-selected halves of a 541-strong panel:

Both descriptions contain information about size and price. The price of the 30% Less Sugar chocolate is kept at £1.50 as the sugar content and pack size would presumably respond to the new regulation and price increase would not be required. The price of the standard 110g chocolate block is 20% higher, having risen to £1.80. In these circumstances, consumer preferences leaned towards the low sugar version, highlighting that price increase is a strong deterrent from purchases of food and drink which negatively affect consumer health. Switching to a smaller, low sugar option would certainly be beneficial to the 50% of consumers, buying chocolate a few times a week.

As chocolate bars are smaller in size than chocolate blocks, size reduction might not be necessary. Nestle’s brand new addition KitKat Chunky More is a standard size KitKat Chunky, made healthier with the inclusion of fruit, nuts and oats, and most importantly, containing 30% less sugar. We published a preference steer to 2013 consumers, showing them five KitKat options, including the new KitKat Chunky More. The exclusive preference results are shown below, which only take into account consistent choices of the same option every time it had been shown:

KitKat Chunky More is likely to gain a solid following among KitKat Chunky lovers. It is on a par with the popular Salty Caramel and Peanut Butter options, while only the original option stands out as a top preference that the new bar cannot beat. It remains to be seen whether an imposed price difference would further change this ranking.

React quickly to regulatory changes in your industry by measuring the effect a tax-imposed price increase would have on your product. Vypr can give you timely feedback on return on investment in new product attributes that would mitigate such developments.

Feed: measuring the evolution in meal replacement drinks

Veganism has grown in popularity in the last few years reaching 2% of the UK population in 2018. However, this is not the main factor determining market growth in meat-free products. 22% of Vypr’s consumer community currently consists of self-described meat-reducers, i.e. people making a conscious effort to reduce their meat consumption. An increasing number of new launches in meat substitutes and plant-based food aims to satisfy this demand.

Feed, an all vegan meal substitute brand, has launched a range of on-the-go drinks, marketed as complete meals, with ready-to-drink and just-add-water options. The latter has been included in a trial run aimed at millennials, in which 69 Sainsbury’s stores are presenting edgy new products such as salmon skin crisps and alcoholic kombucha.

Feed’s meal replacement drink targets on-the-go, active consumers and is “neither a dietary nor an energising product”. According to marketing literature, it is a vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, and GM-free alternative of a regular meal, developed with chefs and nutritionists. We asked a subset of our consumer community, comprising vegans, vegetarians and meat reducers, whether they would buy this product.

A little under 54% of these consumers answered positively but what stood out from the data is that the ratio increased to over 66% when looking at just male respondents. Below is the result from a steer, asking 240 male vegetarian, vegan and meat reducer consumers whether they would buy the drink:

This result provides an interesting insight into the target market with ramifications for the way the product could be branded more effectively. Along with tailoring the product towards the targeted gender we found flavour preferences important, especially as the brand highlights indulgence as a key attribute of its products. Using a multi-answer steer, we tested consumers’ propensity to buy towards the existing flavours in the just-add-water range, being particularly interested to see how sweet and savoury options compare:

Clearly the sweet options are seen as more attractive in the UK market despite the originality of the savoury options, which are reminiscent of soups. Savoury meal flavours could benefit the positioning of a meal replacement product as a lunch option, however, this seems unlikely to be successful in the UK. Despite this we attempted to gain insight on the most likely meal occasion. For the purpose we asked 505 meat reducer, vegetarian and vegan consumers, whether they would have the drink for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack, allowing them to select more than one option:

The results came back in favour for lunch as the most popular occasion to consume the meal replacement drink. In view of this finding, the savoury options may have potential despite their low score in the flavour test. Perhaps the product’s branding and packaging need to stress its gourmet credentials, especially when it comes to the savoury options.

Understanding consumer sentiment on all the variables of your product is vital to creating a compelling offering. Vypr can isolate the factors which help move the needle, optimising each aspect and getting you to better products, faster.

Shop-bought baby meals: which cuisines are best positioned to inspire NPD?

Starting from four to six months babies are gradually introduced to solid food, adapted to the needs of their age. Between this stage and the age when they start eating regular food, parents can either opt for buying ready-made baby meals or cooking baby food at home. The following baby food stages are commonly used:

Health minded home-cooks are likely to opt for making baby meals themselves in order to be able to provide the best ingredients and have control on what goes into their babies’ food. There are various arguments for and against both home-cooked and shop-bought baby food. For example, some experts argue that home-cooked meals may lead to young children gaining weight.

Using a single-answer steer we asked 344 parents of babies, aged between six months and two years, whether they cook baby meals, buy them, or do both:

A third of our panel uses cooked-at-home meals exclusively, which is substantial considering that cooking for your baby can be a time-consuming process. Almost half of consumers use a combination of cooked-at-home and shop-bought baby meals, making this the most popular way to source baby food. Combined with the 14% using shop-bought baby meals exclusively, these parents make a solid consumer base for baby food meal ranges in retail.

With a wide choice of baby food in shops, it is important to establish which factors parents prioritise when deciding what to buy. Using a multi-answer steer we asked 325 parents of babies aged six months to two years to select the most important factors influencing their choices. The results are presented below:

‘No added salt and sugar’ is a key factor for almost half of our panel, which reflects the influence of NHS campaigns against excessive salt and sugar consumption. The next three factors have attracted around 30% each. Provided that most brands conform to NHS recommendations regarding salt and sugar, offer convenient sizes and packaging, and use organic ingredients, flavour remains a key tool for NPD. Research has shown that the more flavours babies are exposed to, the more likely they are to eat a variety of foods when they are older children.

While the best baby food flavour is variety, choices are subjective and could be triggered by parents’ personal tastes or perceptions regarding certain cuisines being healthier than others. We selected fifteen Stage 3 baby meal options, currently available on the market, and ran a multi-answer steer asking 341 parents of babies for their preferences. Finding the mean in these preferences enabled us to see which types of flavours are more likely than average to trigger purchase decisions:

The seven dishes that scored higher than our mean include sweet potato & beef casserole with rice, chicken curry with veggie rice, and beef stew with spuds. The remaining four are inspired by the Italian cuisine: tomato & basil chicken with rice, mighty meaty pasta, beef spaghetti bolognese with extra virgin olive oil, and salmon risotto with a sprinkle of cheese.

Local food is a trend seeing more people seek out familiar, local options, often thought to be healthier. Italian cuisine, from the other hand, is the world’s most popular.  Like local cuisine, it is often seen as comforting, full of flavour, and healthy. New baby meal products in the UK could maximise market success choosing local or Italian cuisine as an inspiration, as both are familiar, comforting and flavoursome.

Vypr can help steer NPD in niche categories, such as Stage 3 and Stage 4 baby meals, by surveying the relevant subset of our consumer community. Parents of babies are the only consumers who can offer appropriate, up-to-date feedback to brands and retailers in this segment.

Strong Roots – how to make a line of frozen vegetables even more successful

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Protein bars: what do consumers want?

Consumers’ quest for the benefits of a healthy diet has opened the door for health and fitness brands to gain market presence. Sales of take-home snack bars were up 7.1% in 2018 with the volume of bars sold up 3% as cited by the Grocer earlier this year.

Health consciousness has meant more people are buying snacks such as protein bars as a way of eating less sugar and fat but also getting more protein in their diet. Focusing on protein bars, our research aimed to highlight flavour preferences as well as the best on-pack descriptors in terms of positive consumer reaction.

Having a wide variety of flavours on the market to draw inspiration from, we compiled a sixty-strong list in order to test for the favourite. We ran six multi-answer steers, each testing ten flavours, and we ranked the sum in order of popularity. You can find the full list below:

To reliably test the sixty flavours we only targeted those members of our consumer community who had confirmed buying protein-related products to achieve their fitness goals. The top ten flavours were then tested with another multi-answer steer so that we could determine the top five, which we used in a preference steer to isolate an exclusive preference and an overall favourite:

The results from the exclusive preference on the left hand side show that chocolate fudge brownie is a winner by around three percentage points, however, looking at all responses on the right hand side, we noticed that the top three variants have attracted similar number of votes. Rather than a clear-cut winner, we have established three flavours, which test well with consumers.

Not only the top five, but also the whole ranking of 60 flavours revealed a trend for sweet flavours, inspired by popular sweet snacks. Consumers are likely looking for less guilty indulgence, i.e. to substitute familiar desserts with healthier alternatives. Positioned as healthy or functional food, protein bars often feature related claims. We used a single-answer steer to determine what drives purchase decisions most among seven key factors in the segment:

The results show that the top four determinants in consumers’ decision making when purchasing a protein bar are relatively equal in the percentage of responses. Still, we thought ‘Low in sugar’ was worth investigating further. Using a ‘Split by description’ steer, we asked two separate sets of consumers whether they would buy an identical protein bar with a low-sugar related claim, described differently for each of the two panel subsets:

The results show that consumers are relatively insensitive to the claims made about the bar as long as they convey the idea of low sugar. Next, we decided to test multiple claims against a single claim:

Using multiple claims resulted in a lower percentage of people answering positively, possibly due to the additional information diluting the effectiveness of the claims made.

Narrowing down our respondents to frequent gym goers who aim to improve strength and conditioning, we obtained a slightly different result. This subset of consumers would be better targeted by claims of higher protein instead of low in sugar as protein is vital in achieving their goal:

Despite strength building frequent gym goers slightly prioritising higher protein content, the percentages overall are not wildly different. Our findings to a large extent represent the current state of the market for protein bars. A key factor in growth for this market is the expansion beyond fitness into healthy snacking for a wider audience. Still, the ability to verify product concepts and obtain fast results is sought after by brands. Vypr can steer decision making more quickly and efficiently than standard market research.