With headlines like “Americans’ Obesity Weighs Down U.S. Economy by $1.4 Trillion” regularly featured in the media, it should not come as a surprise that many consumers around the world are paying closer attention than ever to what they put in their bodies. In turn, major food manufacturers are investing billions of dollars to improve the nutritional profiles of their portfolio before their bottom lines are permanently damaged by the public’s burgeoning waistlines. But what does this truly entail? What challenges are companies, and particularly their marketers, faced with when they decide to take on the daunting task of putting their product lines through an overdue cleanse?
Beyond the financial investment required to create healthier product formulations from a logistical point of view (think researching and sourcing new ingredients, generating prototypes for testing, etc.), companies will also have to ensure that their new, healthier products still appeal to consumers. Without parity or superior performance to their unhealthy predecessors, sales of the “improved” product lines could suffer, making the switch to a healthier nutritional profile more difficult to justify – not just to shareholders, but also to the less-than-thrilled public missing their customary sugar high.
The move towards cleaner labels with stronger nutritionals presents a unique set of challenges from a consumer research perspective as well. While blind prototype testing for R&D in the early stages of the product lifecycle may remain quite straightforward, things get a bit fuzzier when the curtain is drawn back and brand, packaging, and nutritional information are revealed to consumers. It is at this point that we as researchers are faced with a range of questions, such as “how many consumers even look at the ingredient label?”; “should we explicitly draw consumers’ attention to the new formulation? If so, how?”; “will the lower calorie count be worth it to consumers if they notice the new, chemical-sounding ingredient needed to get there?”; “should the manufacturer update the packaging to communicate the formulation change or should they make the change quietly?”.
As the world’s #1 product testing supplier, Ipsos fields questions like this on a regular basis. Our response depends heavily on the product in question and the client’s marketing strategy, but there are tools that do emerge as being particularly well-suited to helping companies clean up their product lines. Validated, rapid research platforms with results delivered 24 hours after field launch have proven invaluable for flavor and ingredient screening, while Ipsos Sense*Suite, our unique set of hybrid qualitative-quantitative solutions, are excellent for early prototype testing when R&D needs feedback on prototypes that combines the depth of qualitative insight with the rigor of quantitative validation on an accelerated timeline.
Furthermore, research tools that tap into impulsive System 1 thinking in addition to reflective System 2 thinking are sure to play an important role in studies related to product nutrition and ingredients. As an example, Implicit Reaction Time (IRT), which covertly measures response speed, might reveal that fat content is significantly more impactful than calorie content on an unconscious level, despite stated claims from respondents that they are equally important. Alternatively, smart open ends may be used to elicit more genuine reactions to nutritional information without the priming effect of closed-ended queries, and then paired with Ipsos text analytics to provide unique quantitative analysis of mental networks and associations based on consumers’ own words.
As evidenced above, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to helping manufacturers clean up their portfolios’ ingredients and nutritionals at this point in time. However, the consumer research industry must be prepared to help our clients confidently navigate tough questions around research design as the frequency of these requests continues to grow. By ensuring that the solutions we ultimately recommend are appropriate for each company’s individual marketing strategy and needs, we are doing our small part to help society inch towards a healthier (but still tasty) future with food.