NEWS15 July 2020

Customers and Covid-19: Key takeaways from MRS FMCG Virtual Summit

Covid-19 FMCG Features Trends UK

At the Market Research Society’s first online-only conference, speakers examined the role of research in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector and how the industry is evolving. Liam Kay looks at some of the key themes.

Supermarket shelf retail FMCG_crop

Lockdown is changing trends

Covid-19 has had a disruptive effect on FMCG, and it has changed some trends that were growing before the pandemic hit. For example, prior to lockdown, meat consumption was falling, with one in five people saying they were cutting back and flexitarianism on the rise. Covid-19 has reversed that to an extent, according to research from Blue Marble and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

During lockdown, butter sales rose by 70% and there was a 50% increase in demand for beef mince. The numbers of people cutting back on meat have also fallen. Food chain issues have heightened focus on distribution networks and there has been renewed interest in where food comes from. There are also questions about what the virus means for the previous drive to reduce plastic waste and usage to help the environment.

Laura Weston, research manager at Blue Marble, said: “While last year we found that plastic packaging and avoidance of it was a big concern among the public, now plastic bags have returned to supermarkets, hygiene measures are producing additional landfill and at the same time we see news of a flourishing planet during lockdown. We have yet to see what consumers will make of all of this.”

Understand the customer as an individual, not as a piece of data

Sometimes the tendency can be to make broader assumptions about audiences, and forget that behind every data point is an individual with different needs and desires. Freemavens and GSK presented the findings of a project that explored how to build greater interaction between GSK and the dentistry community. This involved an exercise to examine dentists’ use of social media.

One of the key aims was to look at what digital content GSK should publish – while GSK is known for its scientific work and tone, the research findings also encouraged it to look at more light-hearted approaches, with many dentists having competing interests and demands on their time and attention.

“It was a really useful exercise in remembering that our target is a whole person and not just a professional persona. That helped us flip our traditional priorities,” said Alexandra Wren, global consumer business insights and analytics director in Oral Health for GSK Consumer Health.

Asda and Strat7 ResearchBods ran a photography project called Snapshot of the Nation, now in its third wave, to obtain insight into people’s lives through photographs of their daily activities. The research highlighted how people have responded to the pandemic, with the supermarket finding that while many people were using lockdown to experiment with cooking, such as taking up baking, a number of people were scrabbling meals together as money became tight during the ongoing economic crisis.

“It is quite easy for numbers to get lost or to lose meaning,” said Elaine Morris, insight director of Strat7 ResearchBods. “What we can’t forget that each of the data points actually represent an individual person. Data points might be provided by people, but people are anything but simple – they are complex, and have their own feelings and behaviours and views of the world.”

Emotions can overrule ration when buying products

Packaging and design are difficult to get right, and sometimes it comes down to how customers feel about a product as much as the rational benefits of purchasing it, or downsides to choosing a competitor. During a panel session on packaging and design, panellists discussed how people do not shop on a rational basis, and that needs to be taken into account during the branding process. “We don’t shop rationally. We shop naturally and emotionally and we make decisions without thinking about them too much,” said Cecilia Sylvan Martin, director of The Big Picture.

In an unsettling time, people have also stuck to brands with which they already have an emotional connection.

Jill Marshall, creative industry consultant, said: “People have so many things on their minds at the moment; they just want to be able to make a simple, straightforward and risk-free choice. Perhaps at the beginning of lockdown, people were more reluctant to try new products.”

Another example is the US jeans market. Dr Sarah Jenkins, director of Magenta Research, said it was surprising how many people had a close emotional connection with the clothing. People often felt in differently depending on the pair of jeans worn, Jenkins said. “When we talk to people about their favourite pair of jeans, it is all about how they feel,” she added. “It is less about the brand, what it looks like or what other people think.”