Understanding consumer needs is key to exports

A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to unlocking export opportunities for British food and farming products should be avoided if we are to reap the rewards of overseas trade.

According to AHDB’s latest edition of Horizon, understanding consumer needs in different countries is vital for our success and we cannot rely on ‘Brand Britain’ alone to boost sales.

The new report, which is launched today, focuses on international buying behaviours and looks at exporting from a consumer perspective. It highlights the need for industry to monitor and adapt to the needs of each marketplace to create more opportunities.

Produced for those currently exporting, the report also provides crucial advice and guidance for those producers who may be considering entering the export marketplace.

Christine Watts, AHDB chief communication & market development officer, said: “As Brexit draws closer, we hear much about the opportunities new export markets present for British food and farming products. AHDB is at the heart of preparations to capitalise on these working with our farmers, growers and industry.

“But how much do we really know about consumer attitudes in those cultures – and how well does ‘Brand Britain’ translate in complex and diverse markets? These are the questions we have begun to explore in this edition of Horizon.”

The study included responses from more than 4,500 consumers in nine countries – from our key markets in North America, Europe, Gulf States and Asia – around what motivates and drives them to choose the food they buy.

While it looked at grocery purchase habits, factors which impact buying behaviours and even assessed assurance schemes with Red Tractor, the report also went into more depth for meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables.

Among the key findings was that while seven out of the nine countries surveyed said ‘quality’ was the most important factor, both China and Japan stated ‘food safety’ as critical in their food choices.

Christine added: “Concerns and priorities vary by market and many could benefit from tailored messaging to appeal to these different interests.

“For instance, in China and Japan food safety is critical. Communication to these markets needs to be tailored to meet the desires of consumers so they know more about the safety of the food they eat.”

The report also closely considers the impact of ‘British’ branding overseas and looks at some of the opportunities and challenges this holds in a post-Brexit world.

Steven Evans, AHDB consumer insight manager and author of the report, said: “The research looked to capture the reaction to ‘Brand Britain’ and understand objectively how other countries see us. We found that many consumers have not had direct exposure to British food products and, therefore, have not had the opportunity to build a firm view of their qualities.

“This highlights that exposure to products and clear branding is necessary to drive awareness and build brand reputation. While this may take time, it can also be seen as a blank canvas where exporters have a great opportunity to paint a picture and develop our story in the minds of international consumers.”

Other key aspects from the report include how different sectors also have different drivers in buying behaviour. For example, while quality was important for both meat and dairy, price featured second in the list for meat while freshness was the second highest purchase motivator in the dairy industry.

Also, promoting the same meat cuts across all countries would not be beneficial for British exporters as lifestyles, tastes and food choices differ around the world.

AHDB International market development director Dr Phil Hadley said: “Often, what we as a British consumer perceive as a good product message will not be relevant for all export markets.

“For example, the Chinese Sunday roast is not commonplace but Dong Po Rou (braised pork belly) is. Both hold a similar association as they both use larger joints but each fit very different meal occasions.

“We also know that a Chinese consumer is comfortable to view the whole journey from farm to fork. But it would be dangerous to assume that the same approach across all export markets will result in the same sales performance.

“A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t allow for customisation and adapting to meet specific domestic demands. It is critical that British food producers don’t make assumptions that their product has the same relevance across all markets.”

Steven added: “This report is an important step to understanding the needs of international consumers. We will continue to develop and grow this piece of work to better understand our key export markets.

“Our next steps will be to gain more depth into individual category trends in different countries and go beyond the data to build a picture of who the end consumer is within different markets. This is will be key to unlocking export opportunities as we move into a post-Brexit world.”

The latest Horizon report can be downloaded here https://ahdb.org.uk/documents/Horizon_InterConsumer-march2018.pdf

 

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice. Colin Ley - News reporter