FEATURE: Consumer Research: The curious majority

Over the course of the past 25 years, the number of new product introductions into supermarkets has, by many industry estimations, exceeded six digits. While it's daunting to think of the processes and manpower required to track, distribute, manage, and report on such a vast amount of goods, two types of new product-related stories grab headlines: 1) the rare success story of the new product that hits the ball out of the park, or 2) a brand's failed attempt to do so. Rarer still is the story that gives credence to consumer attitudes toward new products, which we find a little odd, given consumers' crucial vote in the matter.

In the constantly evolving world of food retailing and marketing, we see general attributes among the most involved foodies and wellness shoppers that show a decided fondness for new cuisines, food ingredients, and tastes.

For wellness shoppers this means a specific interest in items with less processing, sugar, salt, and fat, and a general halo of freshness possibly enhanced by organic, local, or Fair Trade production.

With regard to core foodie consumers, we see increasing interest in the food quality expressed in terms of experience and theater. Foodies aren't just intrigued with the origin of food, but also with its authenticity and consumption experience.

However, we've also learned that the worlds of gourmands and wellness shoppers aren't distinct from each other, nor are they distinct from the massive entity of food marketing itself. This blurring of boundaries is mainly a reflection of fickle consumers who are constantly changing their desires for new food products and retail experiences.

As part of our white paper, Building Enthusiasts: Consumer Interest for New Products in Supermarkets, we surveyed 573 consumers to learn how important new products are to contemporary grocery shoppers. Compared with products regularly purchased, new products are important to 64 percent of consumers, with 15 percent indicating that new products are "very important." Compared with men, new products are relatively more important to women.

Almost three-quarters of shoppers who consider new products important say they're on the prowl for healthier food. Of those surveyed, 72 percent "like to look for healthier products." More generally, 67 percent simply "like to try new things."

Among the minority of shoppers (37 percent) who say new products are unimportant, we see a certain lack of enthusiasm for trying new things.

Enthusiasts, casuals, procrastinators

To gauge general consumer interest in new products in supermarkets, we asked consumers to respond to a short series of statements characterizing attitudes toward new product buying. From these statements we have named three groups.

"Enthusiasts" are those consumers who seek out and lead the charge on new product purchases (22 percent). They're the most willing to try new foods and flavors. "Casuals" represent the largest group of consumers (61 percent), and while exhibiting many of the traits of Enthusiasts, do so with less vigor, are more risk-averse when it comes to trying new products, and tend to stick with familiar brands. Procrastinators (17 percent) tend to exhibit an overall disinterest in new products and in trying new things, and are the most likely to say they are "unsure" about various new product characteristics.

Of significant interest to food marketers are the 22 percent of Enthusiasts who "always look for new products when shopping and are willing to try them."

A broad range of consumers flows through food retail settings. As we see here, a relatively small number of consumers act as new product Enthusiasts, no doubt influencing those around them to try new products they themselves have experimented with.

As it turns out, just as with product categories like organics, behind the minority of innovators at the core of a lifestyle world, there's a large majority of shoppers starting to test the waters themselves.

Blaine Becker is director of marketing-communications at the Hartman Group, and David Wright is senior communications associate. To learn more about the Hartman Group's white paper Building Enthusiasts: Consumer Interest for New Products in Supermarkets, contact Becker via e-mail at [email protected].


Group traits

As with classic descriptions of early adopters of other new products and services, when examining Enthusiast responses to a broad range of questions about new products in our survey, we see a marked propensity for these individuals to agree, rather adventurously and enthusiastically, that they want more new products, wish to be informed about them, and are eager to try them. Here are other traits of each group worth noting:

--Enthusiasts are twice as likely to be women, and twice as likely as Casuals and Procrastinators to say that supermarkets don't offer enough new products. Enthusiasts are more likely than other consumers to say they want to try new store brands.

--Casuals tend to reflect the beliefs of Enthusiasts, but with less fervor. Casuals are much less experimental than Enthusiasts and admit to trying new products based on brands they're familiar with. Casuals are more likely than Enthusiasts to believe that supermarkets offer the most new products out of a range of store types.

--Procrastinators, in general, exhibit the lowest enthusiasm for new products, and are more likely to disagree with specific attributes that Enthusiasts look for in new products (like looking for new products based on ingredients or healthfulness). Procrastinators are less likely than Enthusiasts or Casuals to want to try new store brands.
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