Author: Durk Bosma

The Greatest Value Marketers Can Add is Societal Value

The Greatest Value Marketers Can Add is Societal Value

Recently neuroscientist Martin de Munnik published an article on Marketingfacts about ‘the sense and nonsense of purpose marketing’. He finds it tricky; brands that use ‘purpose’ in their marketing but have not implemented their purpose deeply rooted in their organization. They are (quite rightly) condemned for that. His advice? Organisations that are actually working towards a better world are perfectly able to make this known to the world and use it as part of their marketing strategy. But marketers would be well advised not to ‘take that responsibility to the office’.

Opinion piece by Rozemarijn Koopmans (Multitude Creative Agency for Changemakers) and Durk Bosma (Future of Food Institute), previously published on Marketingfacts.nl.

After all, according to the writer, we are only “on earth because our parents wanted a child. So if you are “a little considerate of each other” in your actions, it’s a good thing, he writes. And that is precisely the noncommittal mentality that has gotten us into deep trouble. Profit for shareholders, crises for society.

The article is full of ideas from a time when we assumed we had infinite resources on earth. From a time when marketers used sustainability, in the broad sense of the word, as a means to achieve marketing success. 

We live in a different world now, where marketing is used as a means to achieve sustainability successes. In a world where talented people only want to work for brands that genuinely want to make the world a little better. Where the motivation to be sustainable does not come from financial gain, but simply because it is the only conceivable option.

Mark Ritson puts it best: “Purpose is not usually the path to greater profits and better growth. That handy, naive, entirely specious narrative needs to end. The purpose of purpose is purpose. You deliver it because you believe in it. You deliver it even when it costs you something – everything, even your whole company.”

De Munnik, on the other hand, seems to consider “optional consideration of the other” a fine status quo. He explains in the comments, “We live in a world that demands, cries out for change, sustainability and tolerance. But as long as that happens in a capitalist system, we will have to wait until the pain of the status quo is greater than the pain of change. And then it might be too late, if it isn’t already.” That you can also shape that change is not considered an option anywhere in the piece. The state of the world demands that you should actually shape that change, if you are in a position where you can. And that’s what marketers are. After all, they hold a lot of keys to guiding consumer behavior (and thus can steer toward sustainable choices).

Marketers have influence to make the world a better place – De Munnik’s analysis actually proves just how much that benefits companies, if done right. This is also why people become marketers: they have a vision of the value companies add to the world. They want to highlight that value with creativity. Why does your business matter? The greatest value marketers can add now is social value.

As many as 90% of marketers according to the WFA indicate an ambition to engage in sustainability. Some of them no doubt feel this need intrinsically, but some will also be logical pragmatism. After all, nearly 70% of employees are considering quitting their jobs and trading them in for a job at a company that does take corporate social responsibility seriously – good luck recruiting new colleagues and achieving your business goals from the status quo.

So whether or not you believe in purpose-driven work: chugging along like this and “leaving the ideas to the political parties” (that comment is fodder for another piece) is no longer an option at all. Resources are running out. Natural reserves are getting rights. New legislation is going to change a lot in terms of sustainable and responsible business. And consumers have also caught on: passing on the true price cost of a cup of coffee only to the customer is no longer accepted. In short: is purpose not an actual part of your organization? Then you would be very wise to change course. Business as usual is dying out, now because it can, soon because it must.

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Why Albert Heijn wasn’t the most sustainable Dutch supermarket after all

Why Albert Heijn wasn’t the most sustainable Dutch supermarket after all

Beware of ‘winners’ elected in consumers research.

Opinion piece by Durk Bosma (March 7, 2023), previously published by Marketingfacts.

Soon it will be that time again. On March 23, the Swedish research agency Sustainable Brand Index (SBI) will present the results of its annual survey of how sustainable consumers think brands in 8 European countries are. In every country there will probably be a few glowing CEOs sitting at the table to hear that they have won (again). But should they be so happy?

There has been strong criticism on the study for some years. See also this broadcast of the television program Propaganda, which wondered why Albert Heijn was again the winner among the supermarkets. Last year, the Reclame Code Commissie (the organization that deals with the self-regulation system of advertising in The Netherlands) made an important ruling (also about Albert Heijn) that calls into question SBI’s revenue model.

If SBI has not made fundamental improvements to its research by 2023, all elected winners who communicate about their win may be rapped over the knuckles by the Reclame Code Commissie.

The ruling is not just about Albert Heijn and Sustainable Brand Index. The implications are much larger. After all, lists of the most sustainable, the most customer-friendly, etc., are often published. The attention such an election generates is of course very pleasant for the winners and for the agency that publishes the list. But at the same time not so pleasant for those who are not on the list. And especially not for the consumers who make their choices based on such a list.

Because anyone with a modicum of understanding of research methodology often marvels at the poor quality of research on the basis of which such lists are produced. But SBI is messing up big time. The criticism of their methodology at a glance:

  • The perception of sustainabity of a brand is determined on the basis of just 2 questions. In addition, the answers ‘good’ and ‘very good’ are lumped together. A razor-thin score.
  • The questions are (also) asked to people who only know a brand by name (and thus cannot say anything about how sustainable the brand is).
  • A winner is declared even though there is no statistically significant difference from the runner up. In other words, we are not even sure if the winners are winners. Proclaiming a winner generates more publicity than declaring a shared winner. But this is not allowed by the rules of proper research.
  • The selection of brands included in the survey is based on vague criteria. This means that there may be arbitrariness in the choice (or rather, there is room for strategic choices). Within the Dutch supermarket category, the fully organic supermarket chain Ekoplaza, was not in the list so far. Let it be clear, which brands participate ultimately determines who wins. It is also clear that a small brand that is very sustainable can never become the most sustainable brand because of this selection process.
  • It is not immediately clear to consumers which brands in a particular sector are and are not included. While consumers may assume that at least all relevant brands have been included. In the case of supermarkets, one might expect Ekoplaza to be included, which could be misleading if Albert Heijn claims to be found the most sustainable.

The new guidelines issued by SBB on communicating about “winning” do not seem to address the above criticisms. The guidelines are mainly about  communicating that the rankings are based on consumer perception (and not actual sustainability).

A complaint to the Reclame Code Commissie last year resulted in a reprimand for Albert Heijn*. Among other things, the RCC stated the following: ‘When an advertiser uses a title as “winner” in communication or campaign, the advertiser has the responsibility, in the context of professional diligence, to make sure that such an outcome and the underlying research are correct. In the opinion of the Committee, this applies all the more if, as in this case, it concerns research into a topical subject, sustainability, and the result, which is favorable to the advertiser, is subsequently used in advertising that directly or indirectly refers to the advertiser’s contribution to maintaining and promoting a clean and safe environment in general. Strict requirements are imposed on such advertising in terms of demonstrability’.

In other words, Albert Heijn should have looked more closely into the quality of the research conducted and questioned whether the research was good enough. Especially since it was a sustainability claim.

Useful rankings that are good

Rankings are useful because they can get things moving within organizations. But then those rankings must be based on solid and transparent research. And all relevant competitors must be included. Moreover, the way results are presented must do justice to the limitations of survey research. Anyone who does not want to take these into account is being deceitful.

And so this is my plea, addressed to all marketers working for a brand that emerges as a “winner” in such a ranking. Before you enthusiastically start typing up a press release, sit down with a research expert to judge the quality of the research behind the win. In many cases, unfortunately, you will find that the research is inadequate. If you fail such an audit, you can expect a rude awakening as happened at Albert Heijn.

*The ruling is only based on the argument that the difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 supermarkets, was too small and did not prove a statistically significant difference. The other arguments were not even considered in the RCC’s ruling.

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Understanding Sustainable Behavior (the book)

Understanding Sustainable Behavior (the book)

We are working on the ultimate guide to consumer understanding to support sustainable marketing.

In short:

We believe that insight in why people do certain things (or don’t do them) is crucial. In all facets of sustainable marketing clear consumer insight can facilitate decision making and provide creative input. But how to obtain a sharp picture of what consumers want or don’t want? 

The book:

We are currently collecting all we know about sustainable marketing and consumers insights. We combine it into a pragmatic, fun to read, visually appealing, creative, holistic and indispensable guide. It will contain step-by-step approaches and loads of good and bad examples of (un)successful sustainable marketing.

The book is scheduled to be published in fall 2023. Pre-orders are available in August 2023.

The book will consist of 6 parts:

The theorie

  • Part 1: what is sustainable behavior       
  • Part 2: what is known about sustainable behavior
  • Part 3: influencing consumer behavior  

  Insights in practise

  • Part 4: Using consumer insights for strategic decision making      
  • Part 5: Using consumer insights for sustainable product development and innovation        
  • Part 6: Using consumer insights for developing effective communication   

Share your thoughts!

Contact us to find out more about the book. Perhaps you have ideas, thoughts or best practices you would like to share with us.

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Competing successfully in the sustainability arena

Competing successfully in the sustainability arena

Opinion piece by Durk Bosma, previously published on GreenBook

Having worked as a researcher in sustainable food for the last 5 years, I have seen an incredible amount of sustainable innovations and brands hit the market. Every food company I know is working hard on making their impact smaller or even net-positive, by developing products that are better for the world and consumers. But not all of them succeed. Simply making products that are better for the planet or society isn’t enough. In order to be successful in sustainable marketing you need to dig a little deeper. In this article I will explain how consumer insights can help to successfully position sustainable brands and innovations.

Impact vs desire framework

Unfortunately there is no clear 1-to-1 correlation between how good a product is for the planet and how much consumers want it. To illustrate this we use the framework below. It consists of 2 simple axis: impact and desirability.

Your sustainability improvements determine where you stand on the vertical axis, impact. Your marketing efforts will determine how far you move to the right on the desirability axis.

Ideally, every sustainable food innovation is in the right top quadrant. This is where stuff sits that consumers really want and is good for the planet. It means that people will consciously choose these brands and products over alternatives that are less sustainable. As an example, think of the brand Patagonia. Very activist and very popular, partly because consumers believe and support the mission of the brand (and also they have high quality products, are well-known, etc.).

However, many sustainable innovations are in the top left corner. Here we find products that have a positive impact, but are not very popular (yet) among consumers. They feel they need to make a sacrifice if they use these products, give something up. Products in this area might be less tasty, more expensive, take more effort to recycle, etc. Think of paper straws as a substitute for plastic ones. No one really wants those. Just think of the mouthfeel when the paper becomes mushy. A less sustainable alternative that would not become mushy after a few sips, would be more appealing to consumers.

In the left bottom quadrant we find products and brands that are already receding. They do harm to the planet or society and consumers don’t want them (anymore). It’s good that these products are dying out. But we have to remember that they don’t end up here by themselves. It requires a coordinated effort of communication, policy development and the development of better alternatives. As an example think of petrol powered cars. They are moving towards this quadrant, because of the availability of electrical vehicles (and charging stations), subsidies & taxes and an increasing awareness of the negatives effects of using fossil fuels.

On the bottom right we find the products that are still very much in vogue, although they have a negative planetary or societal impact. The clearest example is meat. Scientists (and more and more consumers as well) agree that eating meat is not a good idea and that a more plant-based diet is needed to feed the world in the future. But still, many consumers find it difficult to reduce the consumption of animal-based products. Or don’t feel the need or desire to do so.

Understanding the dynamics in your category allows you to make well thought out strategic choices. These choices form the foundation for sustainable brand development, product development and communication. So you need to know where in the framework your product or brand sits. And where your competitors are. And even more importantly, understand what determines the position on both axes, in the eyes of the consumers. And in order to achieve this understanding you need to spend some time getting to know your target audience.

Three ways to make impact

Let’s have a look at the vertical axis, the impact axis. Impact is multi-faceted. In a myriad of ways the production and consumption of food products has an impact on the world. These ways can be categorized as:

  • ecological impact
  • social impact
  • direct impacts on the health and well-being of those who consume it

Just think of chocolate. The raw materials (cocoa beans) are produced in tropical areas, mainly in the western part of Africa. It grows in the shadows of tropical forests and doesn’t require loads of fertilizers and pesticides. Most farmers work in a way that is considered organic. However, growing demand leads to deforestation, erosion and loss of biodiversity.

A major problem is the fluctuating and low price farmers receive for their cocoa. They often earn no more than $2 a day. Poverty leads to a lack of education, health care, electricity and clean water. Poverty also encourages child labor. The farmers depend on a few big players in the market who buy and process the cocoa. Several fairtrade organizations try to improve the situation of the farmers by offering them a minimum price for their produce.

Both positive and negative health effects are attributed to chocolate. Some say eating chocolate can help prevent cardiovascular diseases, causes migraine and increases alertness. Not always are the claims true, in many cases the amount of active substances in chocolate is too low to have any measurable effect. One thing is undisputed though and that is chocolate is a product that is very high in calories and that eating too much of it is not good for you. Most variants contain between 70% and 80% sugar and fat.

Actual vs perceived impact

It is very important to make a distinction between actual, objective impact and the impact as perceived by the consumers.

Actual impact can be established in a scientific way, for instance by means of a product life cycle assessment (LCA) that looks at the measurable impact a product has in many different ways.

Perceived impact is what consumers think the impact is. They use their own criteria, background knowledge and their own perceptions to determine this. And to find out what these criteria and perceptions are we need insight into their hearts and minds. Because it’s the perceived impact that influences whether the buy a product (or not).

And there is a discrepancy between what scientists consider sustainable and what consumers thinks. LCA’s tend to look at objectively measurable and environmental criteria. Some things consumers find important are not included. Wages of workers and the quality of life of animals used in the production of food products are examples of these elements. From an environmental perspective keeping a lot of chickens in a small confined space can be sustainable. Using a small number of resources you can produce a lot of chicken meat this way. But looked at from many other perspectives, like animal welfare, this way of producing meat is rather undesirable.

In a recent study we did among European consumers, we found that the top 3 of most important elements they wanted to be included in a sustainability logo for food products, were water usage, the use of pesticides and the recyclability of the packaging. These are all elements scientists would take into account, although maybe not as the 3 most important ones. But on the 4th and 5th rank consumers place healthiness and animal friendliness of the product. These are typical elements that scientist would not take into account in an LCA. On the bottom of the list of priorities of consumers we find yield of the crops and resilience for change in weather conditions. These are typically elements that are of very high importance in determining the overall sustainability, in the eyes of scientists. In short, when it comes to defining what is sustainable food, consumers and scientists disagree to a large extent.

In an ideal situation however, there is an overlap between how sustainable a product is in the eyes of consumers and scientists. Not just the overall ‘score’ but also how that score is built up, in other words, what elements make up the sustainability of product. And if consumers and scientists agree, it can lead to consumer demand for a sustainable products. They want the product, because they believe it is good for the planet (and it actually is).

When consumers and scientist disagree about whether or not something is sustainable, the phenomenon of green washing is lurking around the corner. This happens when claims or suggestions about sustainability are made that are not backed up by objective measurements.

Understanding sustainability in your category

The sustainability arena is big and in many markets not completely mapped out, particularly with break-through innovations. In order to understand the possibilities you need to find a clear answer to the following question:

In what way(s) can products or brands in this category contribute to a better world, now, but also in the future.

The answer can either be doing something that is good (like hire workers with disabilities), or at least not doing something that is bad (like pollute).

As explained before, the answer can be found in one of these 3 categories:

  • Ecological
  • Social
  • Health and well-being

Suppose you work for a sustainable chocolate brand. You can choose in which area to compete. You could make chocolate that is healthier and contains less calories. Or grown in ways that prevent deforestation and support biodiversity. Or provide fairer prices for farmers and better wages for workers in the chocolate supply chain. Like Dutch chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely did. They choose the second element and build their brand around the concept of ‘slave-free chocolate’. And very successfully. They quickly grew to be one of the biggest chocolate brands in the Dutch market. Obviously this is not just the effect of their sustainability efforts and communication around them, but also because the quality of their product, flavours, distribution, etc. But still, it was the strategic choice for a specific element of sustainability and the consistent and relentless execution of this choice that set them apart from the competition as a newcomer in the otherwise mature and rather boring chocolate segment.

If you are ready to make a strategic choice about where to compete, it’s time to reach out to your target audience. You need to know their perspective, what they find relevant. Questions to be answered:

  • What are relevant elements of sustainability in my category, from the perspective of the consumer?
    • Ecological
    • Social
    • Health and well-being
  •  Exactly how relevant is each element?

Once you have the answers, you are almost ready to pick your place in the arena.

Communicating impact to create desire

But first, it’s time to investigate the horizontal axis, which shows how much your audience wants your product or brand. Obviously this is only partly determined by the sustainability of your offer. All elements of the marketing mix play a role here. Simply product performance, but also the price plays a role. Marketing a product in a successful way means adding functional and emotional benefits for the consumer. This is mostly the field of ‘regular’ marketing.

Obviously you need to know your position on the desirability axis. In other words, how much do consumers desire your innovation/product/brand (overall). You can measure this in different ways, like purchase intention, Net Promoter Score or whatever measurement is most suitable. Keep in mind here that knowing your own position is not enough. You need to know if your product is doing better than available alternatives. Because only then will consumers choose yours.

And since we are interested in sustainable marketing, we would like to focus on the question: In what way does the perceived sustainability of the product lead to (or stands in the way of) consumer acceptance?

In order to be persuasive, communication about sustainability a product or a brand must meet these four criteria:

  • Clear
  • Credible
  • Effective
  • Fit values of consumers

Please note,  communication must be clear, credible and effective in the eyes of the target group. Not only in the eyes of the scientist who perform the life cycle assessment or the entrepreneur or brand that wants to make a specific claim.

So the questions you need to answer with the help of your target audience are:

  • How well does my product/brand perform on the elements that determine whether or not consumers find my product sustainable? In other words, is the impact:
    • clear,
    • credible,
    • (perceived as) effective
    • and does it fit the values of the consumer?

Combing your performance with the importance of the product elements or characteristics, will teach you how to ensure consumers will chose your sustainable brand or product. If there are sustainability elements that are important in the eyes of consumers and your product performs well on, these are your unique selling points. In other words, the (sustainable) reasons why consumers buy your product. Be good and tell it!

There may also be elements that are important to consumers, but your product is not doing well (enough). Think of meat substitutes. Taste, mouthfeel and healthiness are important, but many products in this category are not as good as the meat products they replace. In which case, you can only be successful in the long term if you find ways to improve the performance of the product.

There may also be elements that your product performs well on, but consumers do not find them important (yet). For instance, one of the downsides of conventional agriculture is that it depletes the soil, which can only be compensated by adding (chemical) nutrients. Organic agriculture does much better in this sense, it improves the condition of the soil. But not many consumers realise that the condition of the soil is an important factor, contributing to food security in the long term and biodiversity. So here lies a communication challenge if you want to promote organic products. You need to explain why this element is important to make more consumers choose organic food.

Once we deeply understand the role of sustainability in consumer decision making in your product category, ‘regular’ marketing takes over. Most marketing professionals are perfectly capable of developing products and communicating in an impactful way. Sustainable marketing is a little more difficult, but with the right consumer insights contributing to a better world by means of successfully marketing sustainable options becomes highly achievable.

  • Strategy & Positioning

  • Branding & Communication

  • Innovation

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Insights & Inspiration Workshops For Food Marketers

Insights and Inspiration Workshops for Food Marketers

Learn and be inspired during our Insights and Inspiration workshops. Since we started, we at Future in Food Institute have gathered a wealth of insights about consumers and sustainable food.  And we can’t wait to share this. Or even better, help food companies apply this knowledge, to be successful in marketing their sustainable foods. 

Trends, best practices and consumer insights

In these workshops we share what we already know. And we help you to apply this knowledge in your specific market and your specific target audience.

The set-up is modular. Each module is a combination of sharing knowledge and applying this knowledge. Each workshop can contain 2 or 3 modules. These are a few sample modules that can be part of your workshop:

  • Sustainable food trends: what’s going on in society?
  • Food impact: what is sustainable and how big is the impact of several steps in the food chain?
  • Consumer segments: who should we target and how?
  • Barriers and drivers for sustainable behaviour: which buttons can we press?
  • Communicating sustainability: what messages work?

We offer a modular four hour workshop, in which we deep dive into the sustainable food consumer. Each workshops can have 8-12 attendants, to optimize interaction.

Tell us what you want to learn

During an intake the goals and  available modules will be discussed and the final set-up of the workshop decided. Every workshop is concluded with a written debrief.

Results of the workshop:

  • Foundation for strategic choices and product development
  • Tangible and applicable insights about the sustainable food consumer
  • Applied insights transformed into concrete marketing actions, aimed at achieving maximum impact
  • First draft of an insights-based value proposition
  • Advice about next steps in insight generation: how to develop the company’s consumer centricity

The exact output depends on the goals obviously and will be discussed during the briefing session.

The investment depends on the set-up and the amount of preparation needed. Prices start at €750,-. We offer special discounts for SME’s and start-ups.

If you want to know more, contact our Research director Durk Bosma. 

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Determine the potential of your food start-up with a concept test

A concept test for your food start-up

A concept test will give you a good idea of the potential of your food start-up. You will learn who would want to buy your product and why. By listening to your future target audience you can innovate faster and with less risk. And to pay for the investment, subsidies are available!

Brilliant idea?

Most start-ups have a brilliant idea that will be immensely successful and change the world.  Most food start-ups have developed a product that is extremely tasty, sustainable and healthy and consumers can’t wait until it’s available in their favourite store. This is confirmed by the entrepreneurs’ friends and family who give their unconditional support. Yet many start-ups don’t become as succesful as imagined at their conception. Why? Because they solve a non-existing problem. Or solve an existing problem in a way that is no better than solutions already on the market. A tough and expensive lesson to learn, but also an avoidable lesson.

What if you can validate your idea, with real, honest consumers, when it’s still just an idea?
What if, before you painstakingly develop your first Minimum Viable Product, you know if and why consumers would be interested in it?

Higher chance of success, less risk

This would definitely help you developing the right product and tell the right message. And increase your chance of success. OR instead of learning the hard way, you would be able to tell that your idea might not be as successful as you thought it would be.

And think about investors. They will direct their money towards the start-ups that will be most likely to succeed. The first answer any investor is going to ask is: who is going to buy this? Immediately followed by: and why? What if you can provide them with a clear and well substantiated answer to these questions?

Tried & tested tool: the concept test

A concept test is proven way to achieve this. This is what market research agencies and large brands have been doing for years. But start-ups often seem to think it’s not achievable for them or maybe overlook the possibility.

What is boils down to it that you describe your idea (in words and maybe a few illustrations) and ask consumers for feedback on your idea in a structured way. This feedback is then used to determine the potential of your idea and to understand why your idea is liked or disliked. Additional elements of the marketing mix can be included in the study, such as packaging, price and flavours. And this understanding is then used to shape the marketing strategy before going to market. Any questions or unclarities that consumers see will be identified and also an idea if with what kinds of products your idea will compete.

There are 2 important conditions to do this properly:

  • The participants are real consumers from the intended target group
  • The researchers are independent and have no interest in positive or negative outcomes of the study

Here are some examples of crucial findings that changed the way these start-ups entered the market, after learning from their target users:

  • A concept test for a new type of grocery store revealed that the name ‘Plenty!’ was highly associated with toilet paper instead of premium plant-based products.
  • A product test for a medical device revealed that it was not the infections prevented by the device that made hospitals buy the product, but the time saved by the nursing staff when using the product.

Concept tests can be run about products, services and apps

What specific things can you learn through concept testing?

  • Strong and weaker aspects, including hidden strengths
  • Perceived uniqueness
  • Understanding of the idea
  • Willingness to pay
  • Effectiveness of your messaging

As an entrepreneur or innovation manager, you are looking for an unfulfilled need for which you are developing a superior solution. You are working on a product or service that meets or even surpasses expectations. On top of that, you will need to bring across your message in a impactful way. Your target audience can help you with these important tasks!

Through concept testing, you can:

  1. Find previously unthought of opportunities. It will give you creative input to take your idea to the next level.
  2. Convince investors, partners, retailers, etc. If you can show prove that there is a target audience who is willing to pay for your idea, it will open doors that were shut before.
  3. Decrease the risks of failure. Not only will you get an underpinned estimation of the market potential, the concept test will help to you develop the right features and the right message thereby optimising the changes of succes.

Limited investment, high returns

But this must be expensive, you may think. But we believe that failing to address the real consumer needs is expensive. Since we know start-ups have limited budgets, we have developed a budget friendly option. Our Food Forum community consists of conscious consumers, who are willing to give their unvarnished opinion. For as much as €2,500.00 we can run a professional study among the members of our community, delivering an enormous amount of insights and value.

Bonus: a concept test usually qualifies as a feasibility study, which is often eligible for subsidies or grants (such as the Dutch MIT subsidy). 

If you want to know more about concept testing capaibilites, click the download button below to see how we do it. Or read our concise description about concept testing. 

  • Online Community

    Read more

  • Download Concept Test Brochure

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The Plant-Based Revolution: Predicting which animal products will be replaced by plant-based options?

The Plant-Based Revolution

An increasing number of meat products have plant-based counterparts. That consumers want to minimise their environmental footprint should not equate to them having to forego their favourite animal-based food products. Think of plant-based tuna or plant-based chicken pieces as examples of plant-based alternatives. The demand for plant-based products continues to expand, but how do we know which animal-based counterpart will be developed next? We made an effort to predict product development within the plant-based market and summarised our findings below.

How can we predict which animal products will be replaced by plant-based options?

The switch from animal products to plant-based products is not a recent phenomenon. Who remembers the blocks of deep-frying fat you used to put in your frying pan? When you had finished frying, you could let the fat solidify with peanuts and feed it to the birds in winter. Fortunately, deep-frying in vegetable fat has been the norm for a long time now. 

It would be nice to know which buttons to push to speed up the plant-based revolution. The good news is that those “buttons” are already largely known from consumer research and behavioral theories. Here, we list a few.

You can see how each category is doing in all of these areas by asking consumers. When looking at consumers responses, you can make a prediction as to what proportion of animal products will be replaced by plant-based products in the future. And you will know in which areas you as a producer must do better.

Consumer’s motivation

An important button is the motivation to switch to plant-based. Do consumers want to change? Three aspects play a role here: animal welfare, climate considerations and health. Motivation is influenced by what kind of information consumers are exposed to. A documentary about animal suffering in a slaughterhouse increases motivation to adopt plant-based alternatives. But so does media attention concerning the health benefits of plant-based diets. However, this depends on whether these media actually reach the sceptics. 

Credibility of the products

Then there is the quality of the plant-based alternative. Is the plant-based version better, equal or inferior to the animal-based one? The tricky thing is that before someone has tried a plant-based version, the quality is only an expectation. Credibility is therefore essential. Do consumers believe that the product is good (enough)? Also, credibility is higher for some categories than others. For example, it is easier to imagine that you can make a tasty plant-based burger than mature Gouda cheese. 

Although the quality of plant-based alternatives has risen sharply in many categories, (negative) expectations are still often confirmed. People do not find the plant-based alternative as good as the animal-based one. And once a consumer has had a disappointing experience, it is difficult to persuade him or her to try again.

Composition of the product

In what respects should a plant-based product be equal to or better? The taste and texture, of course. But the composition is becoming increasingly important. To what extent has the product been processed? Which (unknown) ingredients are used? Where do those ingredients come from? And how do the ingredients affect my health? These are (relevant) questions that consumers have. And suppliers must be able to answer them clearly. 

Convenience

People want convenience. Therefore, how easy it is to switch to a plant-based alternative is an important factor. Is there an acceptable plant-based alternative available at the store? Increased availability can greatly accelerate the plant-based revolution. But the product itself should also be easier to incorporate into meals. Think of plant-based ‘eggs’ in a carton.

Necessity of the substitute

The necessity of the category is important to take into account when determining the potential of plant-based alternatives. Do you actually need to replace the animal product, or can you do without it just fine? Milk, for example, is a product that many people can do without. 

Price- quality ratio

Price is obviously an important factor. Suppose that quality is perceived as being good enough. In that case, the consumer will pay a premium price for the plant-based product. But what if the plant-based alternative is cheaper? Then you can attract a segment of price-sensitive consumers. For the time being, the only category where this is the case seems to be margarine (plant-based butter). 

Social norm

The last factor of importance is the social norm. People like to copy the behaviour of those around them. So it is crucial to know what others are doing. And you can play with this by indicating what the norm is. We all know the signs in hotels that say ‘80% of guests use their towel more than once. 

Game changers are products that strike the right chord with consumers in almost all of these areas. A healthier, tastier, easier, and cheaper product turns the category on its head. As it happened with deep-frying fat. And that made everyone happy, except perhaps the birds.  

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How can we increase trust in the food chain?

How can we increase trust in the food chain? 

Client:

Brief:

To uncover the themes that play a role in influencing consumers to eat more healthily, more sustainably, and to be more open towards food innovation. The insights, in conjunction with findings from the TrustTracker® project, are used to plan future dialogue and engagement with the EIT Food community.  

Our approach:

Future of Food Institute and EIT Food have a mission in common: empower the consumer to be actively involved in improving the food chain. 

Together with 178 participants, from 13 European countries, we co-created 12 key themes that play a role in influencing consumers to eat more healthily, more sustainably, and to be more open towards food innovation.

Data for this study was collected in an online community, in which European citizens took part in a total of 40 (mini-)assignments. Over three periods of 5-10 days, the community members took part in open discussions, photo assignments, short questionnaires, and polls.

Findings in a nutshell:

The ‘secret’ formula

Together with the participants  we co-created 12 strategies that can play a role in influencing consumers to eat more healthily, more sustainably, and to be more open towards food innovation. The aim of these strategies is to help (re)build trust in the food system, as well as spark ideas for innovation.

These twelve strategies come together in a simple formula:

Trust = (Transparency & Control + Simplicity) x Love

For each element of the formula we developed a number of strategies that actors in the food chain can follow in order to build trust, including best practices and examples of organisations already applying these strategies. 

Transparency & Control

Currently, consumers lack the means to exert control over the food chain. They need to rely on the food chain actors themselves and authorities to check. This theme is about making the food chain transparent, so that everyone can see what is happening.

Associated strategies:

  • Radical transparency
  • Full clarity
  • Power of community
  • Sensible logos
Simplicity

One reason for lack of trust is that, for a lot of different kinds of food, it’s simply too difficult to understand how it’s produced and where it’s from. This theme is about increasing simplicity to make it easier to know what good food is.

Associated strategies:

  • Simplicity
  • Short supply chains & hyperlocalism
  • Tangible sustainability
Building love

If you love a person, you are willing to invest time into getting to know that person. It’s the same with food. And we don’t mean the shallow cravings one can have for a certain food at a certain moment, but a deep and genuine affection for (a certain) food.

Associated strategies:

  • Education
  • Curiosity
  • Trial made easy
  • Modern nostalgia
  • Influencers

The aim of these themes is to help (re)build trust in the food system, as well as spark ideas for innovation.

The full report contains many insights about actors in the food chain and the preconditions for changing consumer behavior. 

Download a snapshot of the report here:

[cloud-download]

Would you like to access the full report? 
Get in touch!

  • Online Community

  • Strategy & Positioning

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Future of Food Institute. Who are they? Interview Marketing Tribune

Future of Food Institute. Who are they?

August 17, 2020 – Interview by Peter van Woensel Kooy, senior editor, branding-expert MarketingTribune.

Link to the original Dutch article

What opportunities and threats do you see for food brands?

A paradigm shift is taking place in the food chain. Sustainability is a competitive advantage (or a disadvantage for the brands that don’t move along). New food technology companies are entering markets with new products and new earning models. Previously unthinkable products and services are successfully finding their way to the market. Think of products based on insects and brands that deliver directly to the consumer. But also consumers who have started to produce their own food with the help of a cooperative. Technological progress offers many opportunities for sustainability in the food chain, but also facilitates new connections between the links in the food chain. This, combined with increasing sustainability awareness, makes the food world one of the most interesting fields of activity for marketeers at the moment.

In the coming years, the world population will increase and will have more money to spend. Globally, the market for food is growing by around 5% per year. A huge opportunity for food brands, but only brands that combine sustainability with consumer preference will grow’.

Do you think there is a need for change?

Yes. The food chain is widely seen as one of the causes of the climate crisis. Food security is under threat, because we simply don’t produce enough food to feed 10 billion mouths. In addition, our current food system is linked to common diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and various types of cancer. The good news is that at the same time our food is part of the solution. A lot is already happening in the field of sustainability.

The European Union is coming up with the ‘Farm to Fork’ program, a comprehensive reform plan for agriculture and the food system. Nutrition is also high on the agenda at the UN. 10 of the 17 SDG’s (sustainable development goals) relate directly or indirectly to sustainable consumption and production of food.

What is the big idea behind the Future of Food Institute, founded in 2018?

Ultimately, it is the consumer who decides what is successful. It is only when more sustainable food is on his plate that impact is achieved. Knowing how to seduce and support consumers in making more sustainable choices is therefore more important than ever. Because successful brands combine being good for the planet with gaining consumer preference.

Our mission is to help accelerate the transition to a more sustainable food system, with the consumer as the driving force. We do this by providing knowledge and insight into the consumer. What are the drivers? What is stopping them? For example, we know from large-scale research that it is very difficult to get people to adjust their behaviour based on abstract motivations, which is ‘a better climate’ for many at the moment. But we also know that there is a substantial group of consumers who are quite willing to consume more sustainably, but most of all want to benefit themselves immediately. Those people buy vegan products because it’s hip and trendy. There is also a large group that wants to consume more sustainably, but doesn’t know how. For this group it is important to take them by the hand, for example by informing them about what exactly sustainable choices are.

Good question: how do you define sustainable food? 

Sustainability has many sides. For example, something can be sustainable from one point of view, but not from another. Think of Tony’s Chocolonely. They have profiled themselves as the brand that makes the chocolate world sustainable by offering fair prices to the producers. But you can ask yourself whether the product chocolate itself is so sustainable. It comes from far away and it contains a lot of sugar.

Sustainability mainly has to do with the use of scarce resources. In particular, it is about no longer depleting the soil and increasing diversity. But it also has a socio-economic component and health is an important one. The tricky thing is that experts do not always agree on what exactly is sustainable. And most consumers have only a limited idea of what is sustainable.

According to FoFI, what is the impact of the corona crisis on sustainable consumption?

Covid-19 has increased sustainability awareness by exposing the vulnerability of our food system. It has led to an increasing demand for healthy food and the need for a more resilient food system. We see all kinds of initiatives emerging on a local scale. Think of local producers working together to set up a meal box. Farmers who open a drive-in greengrocer’s. The crisis is fueling inventiveness in people.
However, looking at consumer behaviour as a whole, we see little impact. People have started to eat something healthier. Just because there was more time and attention available to prepare the food. For the individual consumer, sustainability is hardly higher on the agenda’.

How do you help food brands?

With the insights we offer, we help food companies develop the right products, for the right consumers, with the right message. Encouraging consumers to make sustainable choices is not the same as influencing buying behaviour with traditional marketing tools. It requires specialist knowledge and deeper insights. There is a big difference between what people say and what people do in the supermarket. In many categories we see the whole market dynamic changing.

We help brands to understand these dynamics and to discover the new rules of the game. For example, we now know that the consumer’s perception of what is sustainable does not match what experts know to be effective. Consumers underestimate the impact of meat consumption and overestimate the impact of packaging. If you know this in your category, you know how to tell a sustainable message and how to turn sustainability into brand preference.

One area we pay a lot of attention to is nudging, i.e. unconsciously influencing buying behaviour. If you can promote sustainable choices with the help of subtle interventions in the food environment, that’s great of course. Together with the National Fruit and Vegetable Action Plan, we are researching all kinds of nudges in different environments. What works and what doesn’t? And what does a restaurant visitor actually think about trying to influence their behaviour? By mapping the effects on both sales and visitor experience, we learn a lot. Knowledge that food marketers can use to stimulate sustainable choice within their own target group.

What are your further plans?

Very simple: make impact. If we deliver useful insights, brands can make sustainability more successful, for example by hitting the right chord in an advertising campaign. Or because they bring product innovations to the market that are picked up by consumers more quickly. And given market demand, we expect to grow rapidly. And growth goes hand in hand with making an impact. The more successful we are, the more impact we can make.

A large-scale consumer survey in 7 European countries is planned for the autumn. Last year we did this survey only in the Netherlands, but we’re getting more and more questions about the state of affairs in other countries. How far is the consumer? What can marketers learn from this? What are best practices? With the help of sponsors, we can make the research available free of charge to anyone in the food sector who wants to make it more sustainable.

In addition, we can offer all kinds of regular market research that other agencies also do. Think of innovation research, communication research, etc. We can answer any ad hoc research question in the field of sustainability. Where we are different from other agencies, our drive for sustainability is an absolute specialization in that area. This gives us a lot of specialist knowledge about the sustainable consumer.

Finally, we are building a research community. A group of consumers that we can regard as front runners. By doing research among these front runners, we know what works and what doesn’t work. Moreover, they can keep us informed of what is going on.

  • Quantitative Research

  • Strategy & Positioning

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Increasing demand for organic food

How can we boost demand for organic foods?

Client:

Bionext, Dutch Organic Trade Organisation

Brief:

Gain insight on how Dutch consumers perceive organic foods and find an intervention that will effectively stimulate the sale of organic foods. The insights were used in a press-release to kick-off the Biokennisweek (Organics knowledge week) 2022.

Our approach:

We designed a questionnaire which among other things included a mini communication experiment: participants were shown three different messages about organic food production. They were then asked about their attitudes and willingness to pay a 10% or 20% mark-up for organic versus ‘regular’ foods. We also shared our pre-existing knowledge about perception of organic food from the Food Forum, our conscious consumer community.

Findings in a nutshell:

Consumers are willing to pay more for organic food, if they understand why organic food is more expensive. Consumers who learned that organic agriculture is more expensive for farmers to maintain, for example due to labour intensiveness as well as more living space for animals, were more likely to view organic products positively than the control condition (75% vs 52%) and pay the 10% mark-up (45% vs 35%).

Picked up by media:

  • Quantitative Research

  • Strategy & Positioning

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We help sustainable food companies to innovate faster and communicate with more impact. We do this by offering accessible and crystal clear consumer insights

We love working with mission-driven food companies and non-profits that have a positive impact on society and our planet. Together we empower consumers to make food choices that are good for them as well as for the planet.

The Hague Tech - Wilhelmina van Pruisenweg 35 - 2595AN - The Hague
(+31) (0)70 2042314 - Info@futureoffood.institute