Experts in the field

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Field Management Ireland (FMI) conducted our exclusive Irish supplement research on 300 consumers and 100 retailers in July. FMI's chief operating officer Nicola De Beer tells Gillian Hamill what the findings reveal



11 September 2013

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Encouraging results have emerged from FMI’s latest research on Irish food produce. Whereas last year, 72% of consumers said symbols such as Love Irish Food and Guaranteed Irish encouraged them to purchase more Irish goods, this year’s survey shows that this has risen to 80% of shoppers. In further good news, last year nearly 72% of shoppers said they buy Irish products in order to protect Irish jobs. Demonstrating that the benefits of buying Irish have now become even more widespread, the most recent results show this has now increased to 76% of consumers.

FMI chief operating officer Nicola De Beer believes the statistics paint an optimistic picture for Irish suppliers. "I think the results are great in comparison," she says. "If you compare them against last year’s, there’s definitely been an upward trend and people want to buy Irish which is brilliant.

"The research has shown that people are buying Irish because they feel that it’s securing Irish jobs which is a promising trend as well. It’s definitely a move in the right direction."

Taste the difference

The survey revealed consumers’ attitudes on the extent to which Irish produce has been sign-posted within a store. When asked ‘Do you think this store has done enough to highlight Irish produce?’ over half, 55% of shoppers, answered yes, while 32% said they were unsure. Does this subsequently suggest there is room for improvement within in-store merchandising in order to get the Irish message across better? 

"I think even over the last two months, this has improved," says De Beer. "We did the survey in July and consumers and retailers are starting to see and implement this more. For the retailers, it’s about improving the signage around them promoting Irish and using sampling and good visual aids to promote that. Getting people to sample Irish products is important because our research shows that the more people sample a product, the more they are inclined to purchase it."

De Beer believes this is particularly important within the fresh foods segment. "Consumers really get to taste the difference and that is the quality piece. The retailers are talking and shouting about Irish products more and doing more to visually highlight them to the consumers, so that as a consumer you’re more aware. You see all the branding around Love Irish Food and those kinds of initiatives which is great. Brands such as Avonmore are really promoting the fact that they’re Irish so to continually do that, I think, is key."

Quality and price

Another encouraging result revealed by the survey was that an impressive 81% of consumers thought ‘Irish produce is generally of a high quality’. On the flip side of this however, when consumers were asked if they thought Irish goods were more expensive than other similar products, a considerable 64% said yes and 26% were unsure. So, are consumers prepared to spend more to support what they perceive to be more expensive, home-produced products? 

"I think they are prepared to spend a little bit more because of the fact it’s Irish," says De Beer. "They’re looking to support the Irish market. But I think what the discounters and other retailers are now highlighting is that you don’t necessarily have to spend more because you can get good quality Irish produce for the same price."

For the first time, this year’s survey also explored the Irish credentials of retailers’ own-brand ranges and how well their local origins were being communicated to the consumer. When asked ‘Do you think the Irish origins of own-brand products are communicated clearly on-pack?’, the results were split relatively evenly between the yes and no camps, with 48% of consumers answering yes, 40% answering no and 12% unsure. However De Beer believes that certain own-brand ranges are excelling within this area. "There are a lot of own-brands which are starting to do that brilliantly. Even the likes of the SuperValu own-brand, it’s amazing the work that they’re putting into that. The group is treating its own-brand range as a brand in its own right and that’s the answer, because it’s highlighting the quality of the produce and where it comes from – it’s good insight." What’s more, De Beer believes the own-brand concept is increasingly expanding into the convenience sector where the Irish roots of private-label ranges are also being highlighted better.

Own-brand influence

The extent to which Irish shoppers are currently purchasing own-brand products as a percentage of their overall shop was likewise examined in the FMI survey. Interestingly, while the majority of both retailers and consumers thought that own-brand goods accounted for approximately 20%-30% of an average weekly shop, on the whole, there was a considerable disparity between the answers given by retailers and consumers. In general, more retailers thought that own-brand ranges accounted for a greater proportion of spend – between 10% and 40% of the weekly shop – although 5% of shoppers actually said private-label ranges accounted for a whopping 80% – 100% of their weekly spend, which the retailers surveyed had attributed to zero.

When asked why she thought this disparity exists, De Beer responded: "That’s an interesting one. I think there’s been a lot of self-promotion within the retailers on their own-brand products. Whether that has translated to the consumer or not, could account for the disparity. But I think as retailers start to brand their own-brand ranges more and highlight to the consumer that the quality is there and that it is sourced locally; the more consumers talk about that, the more pick-up retailers will see."

Of course, for the branded suppliers, it is obviously encouraging that in the main, brands still account for the majority of a consumer’s weekly spend. According to De Beer: "The branded products are also making huge moves to produce locally. Even major companies like Mondelwould have products such as Twirls made in Ireland in order to get a part of the action."

Irish Food

Irish origin of own-brand ranges

The survey also revealed a divergence between retailer and consumer views on the importance of own-brand goods being produced in Ireland. On the subject of whether it was important for consumers that own-brand goods are produced in Ireland, a huge 76% of shoppers said it was a very important consideration, yet only 19% of retailers said the same, with an additional 46% of retailers describing it as important. Is it therefore the case that consumers could be looking at the issue through somewhat rose-tinted spectacles?

In response, De Beer notes that price sensitivity obviously exists within the market and it is possible that consumers are looking at the ideal potential scenario whereas the retailers are focusing more on the question of price. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that most consumers regard origin as a high priority when choosing their own-brand goods. It is therefore worthwhile for retailers to look at how effectively their ranges are communicating this message. 

Irish action at discounters

The latest Kantar Worldpanel grocery market share figures show the discounters, Aldi and Lidl, are claiming a rising share of the Irish grocery market – now standing at a combined total of 15.1%. ShelfLife subsequently also decided to look at the discounters in relation to their Irish produce in the FMI survey for the first time this year. When the question of whether the discounters stocked a high percentage of Irish goods was posed, 50% of consumers said yes, 31% said no and 19% were unsure. De Beer expects the discounters will see an upward shift in this area due to their recent above-the-line advertising strategies. "Up until a few months ago, there wasn’t that much promotion above-the-line which they’ve started doing loads of now and I think that will drive people’s ability to realise there is Irish produce in the discounters."


Relationship between retailers and suppliers

FMI’s research likewise gained several key insights on retailers’ views on the promotion and prominence of Irish goods. When 100 retailers were asked if they thought Irish suppliers do enough to highlight their products, 43% said yes, 30% said no and 27% were unsure. This illustrates that suppliers could improve within this area but how exactly should they go about doing so? According to De Beer: "Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a lot more Irish suppliers coming forward into the market again. A lot of them are still artisan-type suppliers who don’t have the spend behind them. So for them the best thing to do is sampling activity, to get the product into consumers’ hands, because once people are tasting it, there’s a natural reason to purchase the product. With a limited budget I would always promote sampling activity where possible."

The COO also believes that through their social networking pages, websites and packaging, suppliers are focusing more on the local story behind their brands. "Our clients are showing their local roots, how they were created, where they were established in the country. And they’re tied locally to local suppliers that they use to create their products. So I think that story is a great story to tell. People are buying into that in understanding where a certain product comes from.

"It transcends into the charities that they support and what they’re doing for the local community and that is encouraging because you get the community behind a brand or a retailer which is the case with the Musgrave Group."

Irish stamp of approval

Working with a wide variety of clients, including Barry’s Tea, Glanbia, Bord Bia, Bulmers and Mondelez, to name but a few, De Beer says of these FMCG heavyweights: "It’s all about having that Irish stamp on what they produce and showing that they support local farmers and support local jobs. Our job involves helping them highlight that to the public and making sure people are aware of it. We support the Love Irish Food campaign, and anything related to supporting Irish, we try and get involved in as much as possible."

She is confident that the influence of own-brands will help to create a more competitive market overall. "There are lots of branded products that are seen as being Irish-loved brands and they are continuing to do very well and I think the own-brands are competing well against them which is resulting in a more competitive market. I think that is a good thing for the consumer because it means that prices will hopefully drop, quality will increase and it will give the consumer more choice which I think is great. From our perspective, it’s important that a greater Irish focus from suppliers and retailers continues because obviously we’re in the job creation world."

De Beer is excited about the next 12 months in such a dynamic business and reflecting on recent major changes within the grocery industry, such as Musgrave’s announcement that Superquinn will soon come under the SuperValu banner, states: "We work with some amazing clients and we’re looking forward to changing with them as they change." 


People Profile: Nicola De Beer 

Nicola De Beer was appointed chief operating officer at FMI in July of this year. Appointed to the Board of Directors in 2012, she is centrally involved in the strategic direction of the company.

Commenting on her appointment, De Beer said: "FMI is a very dynamic business with a strong results-driven culture. I look forward to being at the helm of an enterprise that’s constantly growing and developing, working with owner Margaret Lyons, senior colleague Libby Keeling and the entire team to build the FMI brand offering over the coming years."

De Beer joined FMI as account manager in 2006 moving swiftly to the position of account director in 2007. During this time she was responsible for successfully setting up the sales sector for FMI and managed a team of sales, merchandising and promotional staff.

She holds a degree in Psychology from the University of Stellenbosch and a certificate in Labour Law from the University of Cape Town. 



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