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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.

Valentine’s Day: Picks from Lush’s Special Collection

Every year Valentine’s day sees people purchase heart-adorned cards, boxes of chocolate, and bouquets of red roses. The 14 February event is heavily commercialised with retailers competing to entice men and women to buy gifts, flowers and cards. In value terms, British consumers spend more than £500m a year on Valentine’s Day, The Independent has reported

We were interested to check how universal the event is by running a steer to estimate what proportion of the working age population intend to celebrate it this year. As we wanted to obtain a result which was representative for the UK, we applied the national representativeness condition (NatRep) on our single answer steer, and asked consumers whether they would celebrate Valentine’s day:

Nearly 63% of our consumer community confirmed that they will celebrate Valentine’s day in some form, a result covering all age and gender segments in proportions consistent with the statistics from the last Census. This highlights significant profit potential for retailers and brands.

Confectionery, cards and roses aside, cosmetics offer lucrative opportunities for retailers. Soaps, bath bombs and competitively-priced skin care items are attractive for gifting, and natural cosmetics manufacturer and high-street chain Lush is prepared to take advantage. Its new Valentine’s Day collection includes limited editions of funky products, specifically referencing the event by colours, shapes and naming.

To get feedback on these items, we addressed steers to Lush customers specifically. We were able to do this by having previously segmented our consumer community into customers having visited a range of shops in the last three months. Firstly, we looked into the popularity of shopping at Lush by age group:

The graph above makes it clear that the younger the consumers, the more likely they are to shop at the cosmetics chain. With nearly a third of the 18-24 year olds and a quarter of those aged 25-34 having shopped at Lush in the last three months, the efforts by the retailer to offer affordable yet catchy options are justified.

Last year, the retailer marked Valentine’s Day with the launch of a range of emoji-shaped bath bombs, which are featured again in this year’s collection. It includes some eyebrow-raising options, such as a phallic-shaped aubergine emoji bath bomb, which had reportedly caused a storm on social media. But are consumers looking for the unconventional this year? We ran two multi-option steers to Lush shoppers, each asking for their choices out of six products from the current limited edition line-up:

Using the top five products from the two multi-option steers collectively we ran a preference steer, which shows the products in groups of three until all combinations have been exhausted. Vypr’s platform displays the results as both exclusive preferences, where consumers have made consistent choices of a favourite product every time it has been shown, and all preferences, which include inconsistent choices together with second and third choices. Below is the the exclusive preferences result:

These results can inform the retailer about expected sales, so that larger quantities of the top choices and lesser from those with more limited success are produced. This supports better planning so that leftover production is minimised, especially with limited edition lines, which will not be marketed outside a certain period.

The preference steer above can also inform a product’s positioning, if we look into details about who the most likely consumer is. In this case, we were interested in gender profiles, as we expected that both men and women would participate in Valentine’s day gifting, but might have contrasting preferences. Below is a comparison of gender preferences for each of the five products:

Female consumers have expressed stronger exclusive preferences to all bath bomb instances, which suggests that the product type is a safe bet when it comes to gifts for women. Men, from the other hand, prefer soap and shower gel. 

By using Vypr’s multi-option and preference steers retailers can predict sales volumes within a limited edition range, based on the level of acceptance for each product. A detailed demographic view can highlight popularity of a product type among specific consumer subsets.

Airport shopping: what drives travellers’ interest in fragrances?

Travel terminals, airports in particular, have become a booming market for mid-market and luxury brands. Travel retail is now a distinct sector within the retail industry, reported to have the biggest growth opportunities among retail business worldwide. Airport-based shops enjoy a clientele, which is influenced by two factors high street and online retail are unable to take advantage from: a captive audience – consumers having time to spend in a limited space, and the perception that travelling is a break in routine where impulses are allowed. 

With the ultimate goal to gain insight into the mindset of the UK travel retail customer, we firstly ran a demographic steer to establish the part of our consumer community, which has bought products in one or more of the following categories at an airport within the last year:

More than 60% of consumers are recent travel retail customers. Out of the six most popular segments, Cosmetics & Fragrances have enjoyed most sales – a third of our consumer community has bought personal care items at airports within the last year. For this reason we decided to dig deeper and check which beauty products are most popular. We ran a multi-answer steer to personal care shoppers at airports, giving them a choice of six types of beauty products:

Fragrances greatly outperformed all other products, with 72% of Cosmetics & Fragrances airport shoppers having bought fragrances in the last year. Looking into demographic slices by region, we established that Northern Ireland, London, East Midlands, Eastern, North West, and Scotland scored higher than the average for fragrance purchases, with over 75%. This might indicate that airports such as Belfast International, Gatwick, Heathrow, East Midlands and Manchester are likely to perform better than the average in terms of fragrances sales. 

Location aside, it is important for brands to understand what motivates fragrance purchases at airports and tailor their offerings accordingly. In a single answer steer, addressed to the the same consumer subset, we listed seven options of most likely motives and obtained the following result:

Best value is the strongest motive for almost a third of airport-based Cosmetics & Fragrances shoppers. However, media sources have expressed concerns that in the UK some consumers might still consider all airport-based shopping to be duty-free, i.e. exempt from VAT, whereas currently the saving is only available to passengers flying outside the EU. Leaving the EU could mean the return of duty-free shopping for travel to any destination, which would be a great opportunity for brands and retailers to market to value conscious shoppers. 

The remaining two factors having exceeded 15% of single choices are promotions and search for entertainment while waiting for a flight. These two motives make marketing activities at airports by fragrance brands particularly important. A comment published last year by Essential Retail Magazine envisaged that travel retail would soon belong to brands that explore value in more creative ways through the lens of experience, by becoming a delightful part of a traveller’s journey.

One brand is leading the way. Beauty manufacturer Estée Lauder has been praised for creating consumer experiences in its quest to improve brand love, awareness and engagement. In line with this strategy, its niche fragrance brand Jo Malone has created a gifting campaign at London Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham Airports. The brand’s ‘Scented Spectacular’ sites aim to create an immersive experience, in which visitors can twin their favourite fragrance with another, as well as personalise their purchases with charms and calligraphy services.

Whilst some customers will be looking for a specific item from a specific brand when they shop at airports, many will enter with a more general need in their spending, or make impulse purchases. In a preference steer we trialed five female fragrances with the aim to compare exclusive preferences with all preferences of female consumers having bought cosmetics and fragrances in travel retail in the last year. Exclusive preference results only take into account consumers’ consistent choices of their favourite product every time it has been shown, while all choices include the choices made by consumers who didn’t express a clear exclusive preference for any given option:

The exclusive preferences on the left highlight Jo Malone as a leader where it comes to conscious purchase decisions. This reveals the strong potential in niche fragrance retail at airports, where consumers are likely to be looking for exclusive products and are inclined to treat themselves with luxury items.

All preferences on the right, however, draw a different picture. We have three winners, without significant difference between them. These results are somewhat representative of impulse purchases, which could be influenced by a pleasant shopping experience.

There are several factors making airport shopping different from other forms of retail. While important, value could be outweighed by a couple of psychological factors. Travellers look for entertainment when they have time to spend before their flight and are more inclined to treat themselves with luxury products as part of their travelling experience. When it comes to fragrances, the best-selling products in UK’s airports, marketing campaigns and personalisation can address both factors.

Christmas gin: top trends this year

Brands and retailers have been busy innovating their festive spirits ranges, trying to find the perfect formula for the festive season. Gin continues to be a favourite tipple, especially for gifts and something to impress guests with.

We wanted to examine a few trends in festive gin this year. In order to initially filter down the plethora of options on the market, we ran two multi-option steers, randomly separating our selection of 12 Christmas gin products into two groups. The steers were only shown to people who consume alcohol at least once a month.

Our selection represents both a variety of flavours and some unique designs of liquid and packaging. The top three options in the first steer along with the top two in the second made it into our selection of best five, each winning over 68% of alcohol consumers’ votes. The very top option among them is the Snow Globe – a new offering from Marks & Spencer, described by the retailer as “the gift of the season”. The liquid features edible 23 carat gold leaf pieces “so that when the bottle is turned, the pieces float and create a sparkly snow globe”. It seems, however, that simply containing gold flakes doesn’t guarantee a top market success. With under 67% of votes, Il Gusto Sparkling 22ct Gold flake gin, marketed by Selfriges as a “theatre of taste”, couldn’t make it to our top five.

Our runner up aims to provide a unique experience using a different method. The colour changing Christmas gin was launched last year by The Old Curiosity Distillery and brought back this year after initial success. The liquid is infused with mallow petals to provide a distinctive festive colour, which transforms to a vibrant pink when mixed with tonic water, thus positioned as a Christmas party showstopper.

The remaining three products in our top five stand out thanks to special flavours. The best performer among them turned out to be the Spiced Apple & Winter Berry Gin as seen in Aldi’s own brand line-up. Aldi’s customers are describing it as a very pleasant, easy drink for the colder winter nights. The remaining two flavours are the rather sweet Candy Cane and Toasted Marshmallow.

Intrigued to understand consumer preferences better, we ran a couple of further tests with the top five Christmas gins. Firstly, we ran a preference steer, targeting alcohol consumers only, asking which option they would choose. A preference steer shows three options at a time in every possible combination, and reports both exclusive and all preferences (including non-exclusive choices). Below are the exclusive preference results, where consumers chose the same option every time it  was offered:

The option which most consistently attracts drinkers is the Toasted Marshmallow Gin Liqueur – our least successful gin in the multi-option top five. When provided with more than one choice, consumers treat some of the products as nice-to-have and include them in their selection. Forcing a single choice can reveal different attitudes.

The preference steer results highlight that pink gin is on top of its game, keeping its strong position during this Christmas season. In flavour, sweet and nostalgic blends seem to be a topic. Despite being part of Asda’s Christmas gin range, the Toasted Marshmallow gin liqueur could potentially be sought after around other occasions.

Finally, we ran another preference steer with the same five gins, however, this time we launched it to both drinkers and non-drinkers, asking them which option they would buy for a present. Here are the exclusive preference results:

A key take-out is that Christmas gin is a popular present with only around a fifth of consumers rejecting it. Some consumers have different priorities when shopping for a present. Toasted Marshmallow is still a top choice but now it is seriously outperformed by the Snow Globe. Below is a comparison between the results from the two preference steers:

Based on this, we think that M&S’s Snow Globe will enjoy great success this Christmas. Shoppers will mostly buy it for a present but many won’t resist the temptation to take it home and perhaps share it with friends and family. Marshmallow flavoured pink gins will be preferred for own consumption but their potential as a gifting option should not be underestimated.

Vypr has the tools to reveal consumer trends, valuable for retailers. A good understanding of shoppers’ behaviour can optimise product positioning and support successful retail strategy.

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. 

Christmas trees: is something changing in the way people use them?

It’s nearly time to decorate your Christmas tree. Having run a single-answer steer, we established that 37% of consumers intend to put their tree up in the beginning of December and 18% will do so earlier than that. A Daily Mail article from last weekend highlights a handful of celebrities who have already decorated their Christmas trees in order to be able to enjoy the festive spirit for longer.

The endless dispute between fans of real trees and defenders of their artificial imitations still divides people. We ran a single answer steer to establish the current level of popularity of Christmas tree options:

More than half of consumers will reuse their old artificial tree. Undoubtedly this is both the easiest and cheapest thing to do. However, many consumers might not be aware that it’s not the most environmentally friendly option. The Science Focus magazine has estimated that you would have to reuse your artificial tree for twelve years to make it greener than a real tree that was burned after use. It’s likely that the majority of people use the same artificial tree for much less than twelve years. In fact, over 13% will buy a new artificial tree this year alone.

Buying a potted tree is a very sustainable option if consumers keep the plant for future use. For those who will not, there is a rather radical new service in town: living potted tree rental. The Telegraph reported last week that campaigners have urged British people to rent their trees this year from companies which plant them back into the ground after use. Being a novel service, it only attracted 2% of our panel in the steer above, but could it grow in popularity in future?

This depends on various factors, among which price of the service, convenience in the form of easy collection and return, and how effectively it will be marketed. The latter comes down to two things – providing compelling information and targeting the right consumer segment. 

Country Living has recently published an article about one such service provider, called Cotswold Fir.  Their trees are grown at a farm near Cheltenham throughout the year and collected by customers in the pre-Christmas period. The company founder has explained that many customers take the same tree every year and even name it. Growing at about a foot a year, means families like seeing the tree growing with their children.

Families with children seem to be the most likely target consumer segment. Eight out of ten consumers who picked tree rental in our steer were parents of children under eighteen. As for the story, which providers need to tell, it has to convince consumers that tree rental is a truly sustainable option. A locality that is close to customers’ homes means that no long-distance transportation is required, improving further on sustainability.

Most people would expect that rental is cheaper than purchase. In view of this, how should the service be priced? We ran a reference pricing steer with the following parameters:

The result below highlights that a price of £18.60 would attract most consumers – 44% would rent a tree at this price:

44% of non-rejecters is a positive result that confirms a high potential of the service in future years. Assuming that much more consumers will be able to pick a rental tree from a garden centre near their home, or have it delivered, the Christmas tree market is likely to look very differently in the years to come. The service aligns well with three trends in consumption – the rise of rental culture, increasing eco-consciousness, and the shift from consumption to experience. Watch this space!

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.

M&S’s interest-free installments – a game changer in targeting younger online shoppers?

Marks and Spencer is launching a “buy now, pay later” service online that allows customers to spread the cost of purchases across up to six weeks. It enables shoppers to pay for home and clothing purchases between £30 and £800 in interest-free installments.

Fully available to customers from mid-November onwards, the service “is the latest step in the M&S’ far reaching transformation, becoming more relevant to customers with widespread change across the business”, according to a company press release.

Delayed payment methods are increasingly popular with online shoppers, especially millennials. Currently clothing retailers Asos, JD Sports and H&M offer the service in the UK.

In 2017 M&S found that 54% of its customers were over 50. As a result, the retailer’s strategy is dedicated to attracting the younger generations M&S had historically failed to attract, partly due to a subpar digital presence. Problems such as speed, ease-of-use and design of the website have been worked on since.

In the same year, M&S separated its Food and Clothing divisions into two independently managed businesses and committed to converting occasional into regular shoppers. While the two areas are different in terms of challenges and opportunities, many consumers still view them as connected. Looking into grocery in particular, we ran a single answer demographic to establish frequency of M&S shopping by age:

Overall, the younger the consumers, the less likely they are to shop at M&S. However, the ‘once every 3 to 12 months’ response is common for ages between 25 and 44 – around 30% of these consumers occasionally buy groceries at M&S. With the right strategy they could be converted into regular customers.

Grocery aside, Clothing and Home could prove to be key areas for attracting younger shoppers, especially if the online offering is of good standard. According to M&S’s 2019 Strategic Report, online currently represents 22% of sales compared with 19% last year. The retailer attributes the increase to “improvements in site speed, a redesigned homepage, enhanced product imagery, a simpler check-out and an improved delivery proposition”.

Within the plans for improving customer experience on marksandspencer.com is the new delayed payment service. Using a single answer steer targeting the younger part of our panel, we aimed to establish to what extent would a delayed payment service boost sales:

Over a third of consumers, aged 18-44, will keep buying clothes from M&S but won’t take advantage of the service. A smaller but still substantial 22% are current shoppers who will increase the amount they spend when delayed payment is available. Potentially the service could help convert them from occasional to more regular shoppers. 

Nearly 14% of consumers who aren’t currently M&S customers could become such thanks to the service, with this ratio getting higher in the 18-24 age group (21.5%). The delayed payment service could help win over new customers from the youngest segment.

In the short term, M&S is hoping to attract younger customers and boost trade going into the key Christmas period with delayed payment, however, mid-November might prove to be too late to have an effect on Christmas sales. To check, we ran a multi-answer steer to consumers aged 18-44, asking which payment methods they would use for their online non-grocery shopping at M&S in the period before Christmas:

Given that slightly less than 27% of our panel selected ‘None of the above’, presumably stating that they didn’t plan to spend on the M&S website before Christmas, we assume that the remaining 73% of younger consumers intend to do so. This is positive result that justifies M&S’s digital strategy, showing that both the age segment and the retail format are extremely important, especially in the pre-Christmas period.

‘Delayed payment’ attracted 6.3% of votes – a ratio consistent among all ages between 18 and 44. This is a low result, showing that the service might have been introduced late in view of Christmas. It is likely to take longer for consumers to realize that this service is available, although appropriate digital marketing could help speed up the process.

Vypr can help brands and retailers forecast the effect their strategy would have on future performance. Rather than surveying opinions or satisfaction, we ask consumers about their actual shopping habits and intentions.

Supermarket clothes: what makes George a top brand?

Asda is the third biggest supermarket chain in the UK by market share, after Tesco and Sainsbury’s. However, its own label of clothes, George, is likely the most popular supermarket fashion brand among UK consumers. To check this assumption we ran a multi-option steer asking consumers which supermarket brands they buy clothes from. The four options were Asda’s George, Tesco’s F&F, Sainsbury’s Tu, and Morrison’s Nutmeg. Consumers were only shown the brand name and not the related supermarket:

Over 85% of consumers stated that they buy clothes by George, making it the top supermarket fashion brand in our steer. According to marketing literature, George has built up a reputation for quality, style and value. Highlighted brand priorities are saving customers money and offering “the best value, affordable and inspirational clothing for their family”. Based on this statement, we asked Asda shoppers about their single top motivation to buy clothes by George:

The majority of Asda shoppers are indeed motivated by value-for-money when buying clothes by George. Besides being a recognition for finding the right balance between quality and price, this result shows that the retailer is aware of what consumers want and expect.

In an attempt to measure George’s pricing policy against consumer expectations, we launched a Qualified ‘Would Pay’ Pricing steer, showing Asda shoppers, who are parents of school-age children, an everyday necessity – kids’ black ankle socks, pack of 10.

According to the steer, £3 is the minimum profit-maximising price, provided that the unit cost is below £0.80. For a unit cost between £0.80 and £1.70 the suggested profit-maximising price is £3.50. This result shows that Asda has kept the actual product price, which is £3, at the very minimum, confirming that the retailer is making efforts to meet value-for-money expectations.

In the single-answer steer we first ran, more than 13% of Asda shoppers chose convenient shopping as the single most important reason to buy clothes by George. This is a significant motive, especially for consumers over 45, a fifth of whom (19.83%) saw it as more important than value-for-money. 

For many consumers convenient shopping includes both in-store and online experiences. According to Asda, George.com is “one of the fastest growing online fashion businesses serving over 800,000 customers a week“. We asked Asda shoppers in a multi-answer steer whether they buy clothes by George in-store, online or both:

Nearly 40% of Asda shoppers buy George-branded clothes online. A free click & collect service is available from Asda stores, however, the retailer might benefit from providing collection points outside its store locations in future, to make online shopping even more convenient.

Currently George is the UK’s fifth biggest fashion retailer in terms of market share, first among the supermarket chains. It is a key competitor in clothing retail, providing entry level pricing across menswear, womenswear and childrenswear. George is likely to retain this position in future, as long as it keeps prices competitive and increases its online presence further.

Header photo by Tiia Monto.