Interview with trend researcher Dr. Mirjam Hauser, Senior Researcher, Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute, Rüschlikon/Zurich (CH)
Where do we prefer to buy our food? How do we decide to buy when standing in front of the shelf or counter, and what values guide us in this process – today and in the future? Ideas on this are provided by researchers who are already occupied with tomorrow’s food trends today. BIOFACH, the World’s leading Trade Fair for Organic Food, celebrates its 25th anniversary from 12–15 February 2014. A good reason for venturing a look into the future of shopping for food and the consumers’ values in this interview with the author of Consumer Value Monitor Food, Dr. Mirjam Hauser, Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute, Rüschlikon/ Zurich (CH).
Dr. Hauser, in the Consumer Value Monitor Food you focus on values that influence our decision to buy food. What are today’s key values?
Dr. Hauser: It is interesting that there are not only one or two key values, but a whole handful. The most obvious are the choice and quality of the products, plus convenience – being able to obtain everything easily and practically. Also important is health. And sustainability, of course, which has been around for a long time and will become even more important in the future. There are also three more large value fields: first “cosy and familiar”, second “close to source” and third “investing a lot of time”. Here is the dilemma that consumers do not know how to fulfil all these wishes at the same time. This is hardly possible in everyday life. We are all constantly on the move and work a lot, so no time is left for preparing food. People try to optimize routines or eat something quickly when underway. At the weekend and in their leisure time they try to compensate for this and eat in company. The social component is very important.
And what value areas, desires and realities will influence our shopping in future? Are there any noticeable changes?
Dr. Hauser: We have noticed one exciting new topic, namely “tried-and-tested” and “carefree” eating. This is closely linked with the value “originality”. Above all, people would like to eat in a carefree way. They want to enter a shop and simply buy food without having to consider whether it is all “good” food. So here it is a question of reducing the complexity.
What role is played by regionality, organic and fair trade?
Dr. Hauser: They form a very important value field and are encompassed by sustainability. All three segments have the potential to profit from this positive value. It becomes critical when trust is abused. For example, cases of greenwashing have negative effects, or also if regionality cannibalizes organic.
Does this mean that regionality is more important than organic in the value field of “close to source”, “cosy” and “familiar”?
Dr. Hauser: Interestingly, this is not the case. Organic, regionality, fair trade and slow food are as good as identical in the perception of the people we interviewed. They cover all positive value fields. Ultimately, the consumer cannot judge whether the regional conventional tomato or the organic tomato from Spain is “better”. This is also a question of complexity reduction.
Which of the shopping channels and product groups are more likely to be winners and which are more likely to be losers?
Dr. Hauser: From the consumers’ viewpoint, discounters and supermarkets have already reached their peak. Weekly markets, organic shops and the retail food trade can profit more from the current values. Here the retro idea is important. People value the familiar feeling of earlier times, when, for example, the butcher could explain where the meat came from and how it could be cooked. People would like to go back to being closer to the source. But this also means that traditional sales channels must be interpreted into the modern channels. This all applies to both the trade and the products. It can already be seen today that supermarkets are trying to take up this trend. Spar Austria, for example, with its market hall atmosphere, or the Eataly concept in Italy.
What offers will profit from consumers’ desires in the future?
Dr. Hauser: Many new concepts will develop, such as special box scheme subscriptions. Retailers should not just cling to their shop. Mobile direct marketing concepts are called for. Small shops – the corner shops of earlier days but with a modern interpretation – are on the up again. These should now also offer convenience. It is promising to use neighbourhood structures when launching innovative shops. There will also be more concepts that offer food to take away that is ready to eat or can be prepared and cooked at home.
Where will customers buy their organic food in future?
Dr. Hauser: Where they also buy other food. I think the mental blocks that create differences in trading concepts between organic and conventional food have been overcome. In future we will use a wide variety of channels, because ultimately everyone benefits if organic is allowed more space and thus better sales prospects
What can organic manufacturers and the trade learn from your findings?
Dr. Hauser: Here I would like to focus on two factors in the value field of organic, regionality and fair trade. First the retailer can and must establish direct contact with the customer and demonstrate short value chains. The retailer must be able to explain how products have been created and what ecological and social components play a role. This is an advantage of organic products that can be increasingly used in future. The other factor is that the consumers’ trust in organic, regionality and fair trade food is still very high today. However, (purchasing) decisions really should be simplified. Consumers want to make an uncomplicated choice. Complexity reduction is absolutely important. The customer wants to get the feeling: “Here you can trust us. We vouch for the food on this shelf!”
You say that “doing the right thing, also regarding consumers, has increasingly become a personal and social imperative.” What does this mean for food?
Dr. Hauser: Today food is already a status symbol. This pressure will remain. In future it will not only be important what you eat, but how and where you eat too. This factor is more likely to increase. But even though food is a status symbol, there is still nothing elitist about organic, for example. The sector could communicate this much more strongly. Yes, organic is more expensive, but organic products also have added value, so they may cost a little more. However, it must be possible to explain this and clearly say why it is worth the price.