Variety less of a priority to consumers when buying red meat and dairy

Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Sentiments around enjoyment, variety, and ‘fancied a change’ when purchasing food had all seen an increase in importance during Covid lockdowns when limitations placed on socialising and spending time out of the home were in place.

Since the easing of lockdowns and increased price pressures from the cost-of-living crisis, there has been a definite shift away from the need for variety at mealtimes. Instead, more recently we have seen a reduction in the repertories of meals cooked in home, with consumers increasingly opting for quick to prepare meals which feature fewer ingredients.

Price influences shopper behaviour both consciously and unconsciously

We know that price is now one of the most important factors for consumers when choosing meat, fish, and poultry (MFP), and to a lesser extent, dairy products.

Recent August research by AHDB/YouGov showed that 76% of consumers believe that price is becoming more important to them when purchasing meat. Among those claiming to eat less meat, half say they are cutting back on red meat because it's becoming more expensive.

It's important to consider not only why consumers are not purchasing or are cutting back on purchasing MFP and dairy but also the changing reasons behind why they are purchasing from these categories.

Consumers are consistently moving away from selecting food because they ‘fancied a change’. Food chosen with ‘fancied a change’ reasoning has seen a 1.4ppt decrease overall  the equivalent of 965m servings in just 15 months (12 w/e 14 May 2023, Kantar Usage).

This dip has been seen within MFP and dairy, and the cost-of-living crisis has impacted these categories even more than wider food and drink choices. During the same 12-week period, MFP and dairy saw a combined 550m servings reduction, accounting for more than half of all decreases seen by total grocery.

‘Fancied a change’ falls under the ‘enjoyment’ category and is often used when describing products with a premium feel or offering something new. Despite this, premium foods are not the only ones being affected by the change in consumer sentiment, and in fact, some premium proteins and cuts are benefiting from increased sales due to the lipstick effect tempting consumers to purchase affordable, indulgent treats.

‘Safer’ foods, which also tend to command lower price points, such as sausages, bacon, burgers, and mince, are seeing some of the greatest movements away from selection for variety reasons. 

Retail data from Kantar indicates sausages have seen increased volumes sold (52 w/e 14 May 2023). However, year on year, sausages have seen a 6.8ppt reduction in selection for fancied a change. This is one of the greatest reductions in servings selected for this reason, from being the second highest cut purchased for this reason in 52 w/e 15 May 2022 to being the sixth in the same period this year.

This suggests that consumers are continuing to purchase these items, but their rational behind buying them has moved away from variety sentiment, perhaps towards more practical reasons such as price or ease and confidence in cooking.

Taste also remains core for many products, particularly more reassuring cuts such as mince, sausages and gammon, and these products have seen an increase in this factor as a reason behind their purchase.

While consumers are looking to play it safe with these core cuts, they still want to enjoy their food, which these products are well placed to deliver on taste.

Who is this trend affecting?

This trend in shifting away from ‘fancied a change’ at mealtimes is being seen by all consumers, regardless of social class or family status, and is reflected in both MFP and dairy data.

Main meals, in particular evening meals, are more likely to be impacted by this than other occasions. A meal with a variety need associated with it is 9p more expensive than one without this  with cost savings a potential factor in the movement away from variety.

Purchasing channels

Purchasing channel does impact how likely products are to be purchased for variety reasons, with food and drink purchased online more likely to be picked for variety compared to when shopping in store. This is likely due to the ability to highlight benefits and inspiration around the product more easily online to help excite and inspire consumers, which is perhaps less easy to achieve in store. 

Opportunities to boost sales

For opportunities in store, our research shows that most consumers plan their purchases prior to arriving in store, then are largely influenced by price at fixture when in store.

Therefore, providing inspiration in home prior to their shopping trip is essential to capture as many consumers as possible. Focus should be around areas such as taste and can be communicated through a range of channels, such as online or through the media. This could help to influence consumer choices when making their shopping lists for the week, and then by providing a range of products at various price points (whether branded or own label) can help capture more shoppers.

It is too soon to say whether this is a long-term trend and it is certainly not a concern only facing the MFP and dairy categories. However, if suppliers and retailers can communicate effectively with consumers how their products are hitting their key needs at meal occasions, it will be possible to ensure that MFP and dairy products remain essential items in shopping baskets.

Image of staff member Charlotte Forkes-Rees

Charlotte Forkes-Rees

Retail and Consumer Insight Analyst

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