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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 deposit return scheme on drinks: what should retailers get ready for?

Regulations for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks cans and bottles have been published in the Scottish Parliament this year, expected to become a law in 2020, and go live in 2021. Following this, DRS will likely be enforced in England and Northern Ireland in 2023. 

Although it isn’t imminent, there’re a few reasons that retailers should commit to the scheme before it’s in place, namely, to get ready for it, further sustainability efforts, and respond to consumer concerns.

Shoppers want the DRS and consider it to be the right thing to have. Using a Vykert steer we asked 500 consumers in England and Northern Ireland, how appealing it was to them. The results below are on a scale from -7 to +7, where -7 represents a highly negative and +7 – a highly positive attitude:

Our results confirm a strong support to the scheme, with a median response of +6, the maximum being +7.

A few retailers have already trialled a bottle return facility in the UK, among them MorrisonsTesco, Sainsbury’sCo-op and Iceland, all using reverse vending machines (RVM) for return of plastic bottles. It’s expected that RVM will play a crucial role in the implementation of the scheme as it is relatively convenient for both retailers and consumers. 

We asked 541 consumers in England and Northern Ireland which method they would opt for in order to get a refund on their empty bottles. Using a preference steer allowed us to look into exclusive preferences, i.e. the consistent choices, made every time the preferred option is presented:

Out of all responses, 406 were exclusive preferences, which suggests that 75% of consumers had a strong opinion on the matter. 42% of the votes went to cash at RVM and 27% to digital rewards at RVM, making up nearly 69% of consumers willing to use RVM, as opposed to under 28% preferring to use the checkout. This data suggests retailers should look closely at installing RVMs in their outlets.

There are, however, worries around safety and convenience in the use of RVM for glass bottles as glass is heavy and breakable. While it’s not yet known whether a DRS would include all kinds of drinks packaging, it is likely to cover all three major container materials – plastic, aluminium, and glass. There are two reasons for making this assumption – Scotland has already decided to go down that road, and, again, it is what consumers want.

Using a multi-answer steer we asked consumers from England and Northern Ireland which types of drinks containers the DRS should cover, if any. The steer allows consumers to choose multiple options from a list, or reject all options:

Glass and plastic came out as top choices, with more than two thirds of consumers thinking each should be included. Aluminium is not as favoured a candidate, with around half of consumers selecting it.

Regulations such as the DRS could certainly be challenging for retailers to comply with. Vypr can help verify that a strategy has the right priorities, before the structure of the scheme has been agreed. A streamlined effort will help retailers to get ready on time. Balancing the important factors, e.g. industry calls to “keep it simple” with environmental and social concerns, can be informed by Vypr’s consumer community in a fast and reliable manner.

Adult soft drinks: what do male and female alcohol reducers want?

The UK’s soft drinks market has faced both challenges and opportunities recently, resulting in a plethora of new product launches. The importance of several factors, such as health and wellbeing, flavour, and lifestyle, make innovation in the sector a complex process.

The health-related highlight of 2018 was the introduction of the sugar tax, which forced soft drinks brands to reformulate or face price increases. In terms of lifestyle, most notable was the decline of alcohol consumption. Office for National Statistics (ONS) data from last year show that 20% of the adult population is teetotal. In addition, an increasing number of consumers are making an attempt to reduce alcohol consumption, following a series of health warnings including a Public Health England recommendation from earlier this year.

The alcohol reduction trend creates an opportunity for soft drinks manufacturers to tweak existing products or come up with new concepts targeting the adult soft drinks market. A wide variety of options are currently available for non-drinking and alcohol reducing consumers, some clearly alcohol substitutes (e.g. mocktails, non-alcoholic beer), while others are repurposed to satisfy the needs of this market. By running a multi-answer steer we attempted to establish the most popular alcohol substitutes and eventual gender differences in the preferences of irregular drinkers and teetotallers, i.e. consuming alcohol weekly and monthly or never, rather than daily:

‘Sparkling adult soft drink’ is the top preference of both genders, with a particularly high result for women (10 percentage points higher than men’s), which confirms that this versatile segment presents an opportunity to manufacturers to address the alcohol substitute market. The high popularity with women of ‘mocktail’, the non-alcoholic version of cocktail, provides another opportunity for sparkling soft drinks used in the mixes, e.g. ginger beer, soda, tonic.

An interesting market development is the rise of energy drinks in the role of alcohol substitutes, especially among men, almost a quarter of whom voted for them. This rises to over 32% when looking specifically into younger men, aged 18-35. Perhaps surprisingly, non-alcoholic beer and wine were not particularly popular, mostly having struggled to reach 20% of votes. Within these two segments, there was a pronounced male preference to beer and female to wine. Non-alcoholic spirits and kombucha are least favoured as alcohol substitutes, however, being the most novel, they might increase in popularity in future, especially among female consumers.

Type of drink aside, there is a range of factors influencing the sector. Reduced sugar content is much sought after, while flavour is intrinsically important in soft drinks, being it fun, nostalgic or indulgent. In order to measure the influence of six notable factors, we ran a single-answer steer asking our consumer community to choose the most important reason that would make them select an alcohol substitute:

The results confirm that the segment is price sensitive, with more than a quarter of consumers having prioritised ‘reasonable price’. ‘Familiar flavour’ proved to be almost as important (24%), followed by ‘No/low sugar’ (15%). Many consumers seem to be led by anchoring rather than experimentation when it comes to soft drinks, even if consumed instead of alcohol.

Still, a substantial 10% of our consumer community have opted for ‘Unusual flavour’, which shows that less obvious combinations could attract consumers with more mature palates. From the other hand, the demand for new flavours is likely to be driven by younger, more adventurous consumers, who should also be catered for in new product launches. Using a multi-option steer we attempted to gauge current flavour preferences and establish any gender differences:

Kiwi, lime & mint stood out as the top choice of both men and women. Inspired by hipster brand Firefly’s “homage to the classic Mojito”, this flavour is refreshing and crisp, both familiar and novel at the same time. 

Elderflower also proved to be popular, especially among women. Drinks, such as Luscombe’s Wild Elderflower Bubbly, are marketed as celebratory alcohol alternatives that go well with both sweet and savoury dishes. Resembling champagne in terms of food pairing and presentation, more luxurious elderflower drinks allow for more premium pricing. 

Drinks characterised by a slightly bitter or tart taste, such as ‘berries and botanicals’ and ‘apple and bilberry’ are more popular with women but nevertheless managed to attract a substantial subset of men. These drinks are reminiscent of gin cocktails, having a more complex flavour profile, including a secondary flavour. Inversely, familiar and nostalgic ‘ginger beer’ has attracted more men than women – 25% versus 20%.

Another flavour that stood out as a male preference was ‘smoky cola’, which attracted 21% of men and 17% of women. The flavour is part of Coca Cola’s newly launched line of mixers, created in collaboration with leading bartenders. Described as an intensely aromatic blend with smoky hints, it is meant to be mixed with dark spirits but could also take advantage of an alcohol substitute positioning. The brand uses retro Hutchinson glass bottles, which are likely to make a difference to adult consumers looking to enjoy sophisticated soft drinks in social settings.

The sparkling soft drinks segment is well equipped to respond to consumers’ key requirements for alcohol substitutes, as they are usually reasonably priced and have high potential in flavour innovation. Flavour preferences vary between men and women but our mojito-inspired option was a favourite for both genders.

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.

Which small packaging changes really make a difference?

Traditionally it has been expensive to test new packaging ideas in the market. Making up physical samples, hiring focus groups, running marketing campaigns – you needed to spend a lot of money without knowing in advance whether your packaging changes would have a positive or negative impact (or none at all). Packaging changes, in other words, have always been an expensive gamble.

There is a better way. A much better way. By testing mocked-up packaging images with a large group of consumers in an impulse-driven environment you can gauge real-world purchase intent, generating more accurate results at a fraction of the cost.

To illustrate this, we tested three variants of a juice bottle. We changed the shape of the bottle, introduced a sticker tab, and changed the colour of the bottle cap.

In this trial we only tested purchase intent. For a more complete picture you should also test whether these changes impact pricing – e.g. can you charge more if you have a sticker tab? – and ranging, including being alert to any potential cannibalisation.

We used split testing to show different options to different consumers in our community. This provides more realistic results than showing all options and asking consumers to choose between them. For each test we changed just one variable to isolate the effect of that alteration.

For this particular product we found that only one of the variables made a significant difference to purchase intent: the shape of the bottle. We asked a thousand consumers the question “would you buy this product?” split between three options. Here are the results for bottle shape:

The straight bottle is the obvious loser of the three options, with the other two being statistically tied. We progressed design 3, and then tested it for cap and sticker tab variations. This identified that further variations wouldn’t materially impact the performance of the product, at least on a straight “would you buy?” question.

All of these questions can be answered in a single day with an hour of your time, using Vypr. Fast, powerful, accurate results to guide your product development process are now available in our easy-to-use, self-service platform, which connects you with our community of 45,000 UK consumers.