Bord Bia research on buying Irish trends

Courtesy of Bord Bia
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Bord Bia's Helen King spoke to Fionnuala Carolan about research carried out on how Irish consumers perceive Irish brands and the challenges that remain in our retail landscape



18 September 2012

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In 2009 Bord Bia carried out research entitled ‘Retaining Loyalty to Irish Brands’, a study that explored the primary motivators and emotional appeals that compel consumers to buy Irish. In 2011, further research was undertaken to update this and in doing so, Bord Bia discovered that there are still major challenges facing the food industry. 


King says that the consumer and business landscape remains uncertain and will do for some time to come. “Few indicators point to a return to prosperity in the short term and many highlight the possibilities of more challenging times ahead. It is now more important to understand how we can retain and grow consumer and shopper loyalty to our Irish brands.” King suggests that companies will need to adapt to survive and thrive in the current landscape. 


The research comprised two stages. The first stage was qualitative in nature. Bord Bia spoke to grocery shoppers across the country in Cork, Dublin and Galway.


The quantitative phase was completed using an online panel. The 2009 and 2011 demographic quotas were identical allowing them to make direct comparisons between respondents’ attitudes. There were 400 consumers nationally sampled for the survey.


What constitutes an Irish brand? 


Bord Bia asked consumers directly “What is an Irish brand?” The response they were looking for, centered on a brand that is manufactured in the Republic of Ireland. However more consumers today place stock on brands that have been around for decades and that they relate to their childhoods.


King explains: “The importance of heritage and tradition, brands that we are familiar with over the years, appears to have become more prominent in consumers’ definition of an Irish brand in 2011.”


Helen King, head of consumer insight and innovation, Bord Bia

Helen King, head of consumer insight and innovation, Bord Bia

Brands were talked about as “the things you send to people living away from home”. They included brands like Guinness, Tayto and Kerrygold as they are iconic and evocative of home for consumers. 


“Tayto Crisps is a prime example,” says King. “These types of brands make up a significant ‘heart share’ of what makes an Irish brand but are only a fraction of the market. As such these brands are emotionally embedded in Irish consciousness. These are brands that are not only strongly associated with Irishness but almost evocative of Ireland itself.”


There are also a large group of brands that consumers are less certain about, the ‘likely Irish’ – consumers think they are Irish but are not 100% certain.


“Brands in the ‘likely Irish’ group include some surprising examples. Brands that perhaps haven’t reminded consumers of their Irish credentials for some time might be missing a trick – the consumer is just not sure.”


Consumers use certain signals to recognise an Irish brand. King explains these signals. “Names that are Irish sounding, visual imagery, the countryside, agricultural heritage, Irish accents for voiceovers for TV or radio, location and place names, such as Charleville. Irish “marks”, such as Love Irish Food or the Bord Bia Quality Mark.”


Confusion about what is Irish and what’s not


King says that there is always an element of doubt and confusion amongst consumers about which brands are Irish and which are not. As a result the organisation saw some inconsistencies in the recognition of brands as Irish.


Bord Bia asked consumers to name which brands were Irish. “99% of consumers recognised Kilmeaden as an Irish brand because its advertising and semiotic cues on-pack all reinforce this image; the name, the on-pack imagery, the Irish accent in the ads.”


However barely 40% of consumers knew that Goodfella’s was an Irish product. “When we last looked at this data back in 2009, we saw that once shoppers realised that Goodfella’s was Irish, purchasing intent jumped sharply upwards and all the imported competitors immediately suffered.” 


King admits that not every brand can go the ‘personal story’ route but brands that do not establish emotional connections with consumers can fluctuate in the ‘likely Irish’ stakes. “Consumer uncertainty over Irish credentials needs to be replaced with tangible evidence of ‘source’ – or else brands quickly become viewed as generic,” says King. 


Triggers and barriers to purchase


According to King, Irishness and national identity are highly emotional for consumers if leveraged appropriately. National pride and flag-waving is a powerful means of differentiation on-shelf, particularly if the authenticity of the brand’s Irishness is proven.


She says: “In 2009 taste and quality were identified as the most important triggers to the purchase of Irish food and drinks brands – these are rational triggers and, not surprisingly, they remain the case today. Other triggers remain equally as important – security, safety, familiarity, pride, family tradition and comfort, all of these emotional triggers can lead to the purchase of Irish food brands.”


“But the big shift since 2009 is actually a shift in one of the rational triggers to the emotional side of the fence. In 2009 ‘saving Irish jobs’ was a rational trigger, something consumers felt they should do.


“In 2011, 31% of consumers claim that they are buying more Irish food and drink brands, and when asked why – 90% of these say that they want to buy Irish brands to support the economy and Irish jobs.”


In 2009 Irish consumers’ barriers were price, availability, lack of recognition and not top of mind. These remain significant barriers in 2011.


Not surprisingly price remains the top barrier – many consumers perceive Irish brands to be expensive. However, there is a different dimension at work with respect to price.


“In 2009 consumers complained of a ‘rip off culture’ and that Irish brands were guilty of ‘rip off’. In 2011 we hear very little about brands ripping people off – instead, consumers argue, their own personal circumstances have changed so they can’t afford to pay for branded goods per se.”


Classifying consumers


In the 2009 study, consumers were classified into three segments – Irish loyal, non-Irish loyal and conditionally loyal. King explains that for consumers that are classified as Irish loyal, they believe in spending money where they live, supporting their neighbours and their jobs. Today 18% of the population are Irish loyal, an insignificant drop on the 2009 figure of 19%.


“Loyals tend to have more disposable income – they are pre-family singles and dual income families.  Paying more for Irish brands doesn’t mean sacrificing anything else in their trolley, they just pay more.”  


For the non-Irish loyal, they either haven’t thought much about it or have thought and decided they can’t afford it. Their top considerations are taste, quality, quantity and value for money.


“They would not necessarily want to buy Irish even if they could afford to; they appreciate competition for increased choice as well as price pressure on domestic products. If they buy Irish products, it’s because they feel the Irish brands are better.”


In 2009 non-Irish loyals accounted for 29% of consumers. That has dropped to just 15%. King says that this is a dramatic shift in two years, evidence of the greater engagement with Irish business and Irish jobs amongst the general public.


“The big change over the past three years is that the economic crisis has stimulated a heightened sense of importance. Consumers are now more in tune with the idea that buying Irish should be part of the economic recovery, particularly those consumers who have lived through previous recessions.”


The third group, conditionally loyals, are conscious of buying Irish but are doing it to a lesser extent than the loyals. This group has significantly grown from 53% of the adult population in 2009 to represent 67% of consumers in 2011. 


“In 2009 these consumers talked about a sense of being ripped off. Today all of that has changed. They are more engaged with the ‘saving jobs’ trigger at an emotional level as we have seen. But their purchase is still built around conditionality, namely ‘can I afford this’, and ‘is it good value?’.”


The price factor


The price issue has not gone away. 69% of all consumers strongly agree with the statement ‘Irish food and drink brands tend to be more expensive’.


Those consumers that are not loyal to Irish food brands can explain their lack of loyalty very simply; they believe branded Irish food and drinks products are more expensive.


King says: “65% believe that Irish brands are more expensive than imported brands and 87% believe Irish brands are more expensive than own-label brands. 


“The supermarkets have done a really good job at raising product quality in own-label and undermining value perceptions in branded food. The Gucci family had a famous motto for their luxury brands – quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten. If only it were so simple for food brands!”


Changing perceptions


King believes the challenge for Irish brands is to move the consumer mindset beyond price to the point that it influences purchase behaviour less but admits that this challenge is huge in a recession.


“Brands need to think beyond ‘BOGOF’ or ‘2 for 1’ to drive loyalty. These are quick-fix, short-term and perpetuate conditional behaviour on the part of consumers. We need to gradually move more consumers towards a continuing relationship with Irish brands.


King advises brands to highlight price decreases and leverage the emotional hooks that national pride naturally create. 


“Can we use harder-hitting messages around creating and saving Irish jobs?  Yes, but it is not about guilt but empowerment,” she says.





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