Friday, 15 February 2013

Horsemeat Scandal – Consumers Won’t pay More to Avoid Horse, Are Unlikely to Change Buying or Eating Habits

In the most illuminating piece of research yet done on the horsemeat scandal, a survey carried out between 11th and 13th February for respected industry journal The Grocer found that half of the consumers questioned are not prepared to pay any more for their meat to ensure it does not contain horse. Of the other half of the population, 35% were prepared to pay a bit more (around 10%) and 15% answered “don’t know”.

And while the specific question about who is to blame for the mess was not asked, we can probably conclude that the average person feels that it is retailers and their suppliers who caused the problem, and they should not expect the general public to pay to help them sort it out.

Further, the survey will disappoint those expecting a sudden big change in meat buying as a result of the scandal. Yes, 29% agreed they would buy more British meat, and 30% agreed they would shop more at the local butcher. But 41% said that the episode would not change their shopping or buying habits at all, and only 4 % thought they would change supermarkets as a result.

Despite screaming headlines and blanket media coverage, just 31% professed to be shocked by the horsemeat scandal, and 33% are “quite worried”. On the other hand 42% said they were not surprised by the news and only 18% felt that the food industry would get on top of the situation.

It takes alot to alarm British consumers and horsemeat being passed off as beef seems not to be causing much of a stir among the general public. It may have been different if horsemeat caused a health problem, but even at the height of the BSE scare where health was at risk, 30% of people made no change to their eating habits, according to Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University.

Monday, 11 February 2013

How Consumers Decide What Meat to Buy

According to a recent piece of market research by EBLEX 23% of people are cutting back on the amount of meat they buy. This is not good news as a drop in demand tends to mean over supply and falling farmgate prices.

Conscious of the need to stimulate demand the EBLEX research goes on to analyse how people make their meat buying decisions and what levers can be pulled to encourage them to buy more. They interviewed 1200 shoppers in stores owned by the 4 main supermarkets.

Getting the meat purchase right is important to shoppers. They spend an average of 74 seconds at the meat fixture, considerably more than they did 10 years ago in a similar piece of research, and more than anywhere else in store apart from the veg counter.

EBLEX highlights the importance of appearance in the buying decision, and it is certainly true that appearance trumps price in most instances. If a piece of meat does not look right it will not be bought. Whilst the research does not go on to tell us what it is about appearance that matters we can guess that too much fat, an over watery look, flabby appearance, and too light or too dark are all flaws which are just not tolerated.

However we cannot dismiss the importance of price.

People are very price conscious. They buy on the price of the pack, not pence per kilo and of those questioned in the research 80% knew what they had paid for the product just bought. 35% of those questioned had bought products on promotion.

Some meat is more price sensitive than others. Pork is price sensitive, as is beef mince. Chicken legs and thighs are particularly price sensitive, and at the other end of the scale steak is too. There is clearly a price point over which people will not go however good looking the product.

The research confirms that meat purchase is not species specific. It indicates that 35% of people will change to an alternative if the species they first thought of is not available in the way they want it, compared with 30% who will change to another cut within a species. Decisions about roasting joints are especially fluid with 48% being prepared to change to another species.  17% will leave without buying anything if they cannot find exactly what they want.

This piece of work from EBLEX demonstrates that the meat buying decision is complex. Unsurprisingly in a category now so expensive that packs are security tagged people take their time over purchase. If something does not look right it will be rejected. If it is not priced right it will be rejected. If one species does not provide what is wanted then shoppers will in many cases move to an alternative. This is an important finding as it suggests that merely putting the price up in store and funneling the incremental back to the farm gate will not work, unless all species go up in price together, which is an unlikely event.
What is clear is that all parts of the food chain need to work closely together to deliver what the shopper wants. This represents a colossal communication challenge when according to DEFRA there are 86,000 beef farms, 73,000 sheep farms and 9,000 pig farms in the UK.