Fielding a response

Charley Stoney, managing director, FMI
Charley Stoney, managing director, FMI

In August, Field Management Ireland (FMI) carried out consumer and retailer market research for ShelfLife on attitudes towards Irish goods.MD Charley Stoney speaks to Fionnuala Carolan about the results



18 September 2012

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One of the overriding factors that came from this research was that both consumers and retailers have a very high regard for Irish produced food and drink products. 73% of retailers admitted to highlighting Irish products in-store while 56% of consumers say they actively seek out Irish products during a shopping trip. 

This research differs from any previous surveys carried out in recent years because we can compare the opinions of consumers and retailers directly, whereas there are numerous surveys undertaken solely from a retailer’s perspective or solely from a consumer’s perspective. Stoney explains why this time of year is good for carrying out reseach. “We purposely picked the middle week in August to do this research. One of the best times to do research is in the summer, as consumers are less hurried and retailers have a bit of time. Also the weather is (supposed to be!) better so people are more willing to stop and have a chat."

Despite there being a high regard for Irish products, only 30% of consumers are willing to pay more for goods just because they are of Irish origin. Stoney explains this phenomenon: “As these results show, not all the good intentions translate into sales because just over half of consumers aren’t prepared to pay any more for Irish brands.”

“Price is still a determining factor but the fact of the matter is that Irish products have become better value. There’s been a huge push on not only the quality of Irish products and the branding and the support, but Irish manufacturers have also recognised that they’ve got to be price competitive too.”

With prices of Irish goods greatly reduced in the last number of years, it has made it easier for retailers to promote these products. Stoney believes that one of the most positive elements to come out of the recession is Irish consumers’ renewed consciousness of supporting Irish brands. “Instead of looking for the next bigger, better thing from abroad, we’re very conscious of our local community. We can look within 20 miles of any town in Ireland and there will be a local producer that we will want to support,” she says. 

“The agri-food sector will be hugely important in the Irish economy of the future. If you look at companies like Glanbia and the huge growth there and if you consider what’s going to happen in 2015 with the milk quotas lifting, we’re going to end up with world famous dairy brands. So we won’t just be famous for Guinness, we’re going to become famous for our butter, for our milk, for our meat and for our cheese, which will bring a huge uplift to the economy. It will mean more jobs, more money circulating in the economy and also a balancing of the rural/urban mix.”

Stoney says there has been a resurgence of small artisan Irish brands on shelves in recent times as people are drawn to local, home-made products. “People are looking for the Irish, the organic, the artisan, but they are looking for it at a price that competes with world brands. They might not pay as much as they would in a farmers market, but they will pay a little bit more than they might have otherwise done.”

Growth of promotions

While Irish people have learned to live on less money and change their lifestyles according to their budgets, they are being tempted to stretch the budget with a constant array of promotions and offers in-store. 35% of retailers said they are receiving better support from Irish suppliers than non-Irish suppliers yet 51% of retailers still believe that suppliers could be doing more to help promote their products. However Stoney thinks that too many price promotions can have a negative effect. 

“Price promotions can be a dangerous thing in one way because it can turn into a race to the bottom and this has happened in many sectors. I think this year we’ve seen a backlash from suppliers and to a certain extent the retailers, where they are trying to build value back into the brands."

While she thinks that price promotions are definitely important, she is seeing a resurgence in consumer sampling promotions due to the positive sales impact they can have. 

Stoney says that economic growth will come from Irish agri-food sector in the future and Ireland will become famous for its dairy and meat brands

Stoney says that economic growth will come from Irish agri-food sector in the future and Ireland will become famous for its dairy and meat brands

“There will always be seasonal price promotions on different categories but real, tangible promotions like we do at FMI and have done for 12 years now in Superquinn and SuperValu with sampling and tasting, are hugely effective. And this year we’ve seen a lot more Irish brands than before. Another trend appearing is the importance of including local stores in a sampling campaign. For the last few months we have been more active in SuperValu and independent stores than we’ve ever been. Sampling is still a key way to get to consumers’ hearts through taste and smell and the brands see the benefit from the huge upsurge in sales.” 

According to Stoney, tasting promotions carried out by professional field marketing staff can result in as much as a 600% increase in sales of that product in the particular week that the promotion is on. It plateaus after that week and then reduces but it never goes back to where it was originally. It always stays higher than the average sales for around six months after the tasting. 

She explains that if you are embarking on tasting promotions for your product you need to get the timing just right. 

“If you are doing tastings you need to get optimum timing, as say for ice-cream, which is seasonal you’d have a tasting in April and then do another tasting in June, to hit twice within that season and if it’s a non-seasonal product, optimum timing is probably once every four to six months to reinforce that with the consumer.”

FMI does a lot of work with the dairy companies like Kerry Foods and Glanbia. Kelkin, Kraft and Denny are also very proactive at carrying out consumer promotions in-store. “You see a massive peak when a product is tasted. You get in up to ten times the amount of stock you would normally have in-store when you’re doing a tasting.”

Irish symbols

One of the most interesting nuggets of information on the consumer side of our research was that nearly 91% of those surveyed said they were aware of the Irish symbols on products. This level of awareness means that symbols like Love Irish Food, Guaranteed Irish, Think Irish and the Bord Bia Quality Mark are really having an impact. On top of this, 72% of consumers said that one of the main reasons for buying Irish products was in order to support Irish jobs. Stoney says that this is hugely positive because it shows that consumers really care about their communities and are keen to get the country off its knees. 

“I think Irish products have become so important because it relates to the overall economy and jobs. 72% of people say they buy Irish products because they want to protect Irish jobs and that is hugely important. We are obviously all becoming so much more aware of our community and creating a better society for all. It’s all about the positives and I see a lot more of these in the Irish social structure at the moment. Obviously there are still negatives in relation to the economy in general, but it’s good to see that we are thinking of others and that we are looking to and reaching out to that community by supporting Irish brands. I don’t believe that people thought about it for a moment a number of years ago. Our mentality has definitely shifted for the better.”  

While 71% of retailers told us that they think consumers are conscious of buying Irish products, 71% of consumers said that Irish symbols encouraged them to buy certain goods. It was encouraging to see that retailer and consumer results correlated exactly on this point. Stoney says that this demonstrates how retailers and suppliers are really listening to what consumers want. “Five years ago Irish retailers were much less aligned with the way Irish consumers think. In other words Irish retailers really had their pick of what products they put on the shelf and they would naturally choose the product that gave them the highest margin.

“What’s now happening is that retailers have to get much more in touch with consumers so the offering is more aligned to what consumers actually want. They are communicating with each other now and these results prove that.”

Does Irish mean more expensive?

While 90% said that Irish products were of a high quality, it also came across that Irish products were considered expensive. Just over 40% of consumers said that they believed Irish products were more expensive and 24% said they weren’t sure. Stoney says that changing this mentality for good is vitally important. 

“It would be nice to think that in a year’s time the 40% will be reduced to 25%. I still think that the price issue is a barrier we need to push through. The sustainability of Irish brands has got to be about quality, but quality at the right price.”





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