Europe: Consumer insight

Meat consumer buying behaviour

Across the European countries covered by AHDB’s consumer study, quality, price, taste and value for money were the key purchase drivers (Figure 1). While there are overriding themes, it’s important that UK exporters also consider nuances and variations by market. Exporters would benefit from understanding variations, especially if the product is destined for a particular country. For those supplying meat across the EU, it’s important to be clear on overarching messages to consumer propositions.

Figure 1.  Meat purchase drivers in the EU

Source: AHDB/Two Ears One Mouth, Dec 2020

AHDB’s bespoke research asked consumers directly about British meat. They found that whether the benchmark is domestically produced or imported, the relative perceptions of British meat are similar and exporters need to be mindful of this. This highlights the importance of amplifying taste and quality across the EU. Price is also a concern, and in the context of British meat, it’s important to remember it is often more expensive than domestic equivalents. Therefore, communicating quality of the product to justify its price position is vital.

Evaluating what contributes to consumers’ views on quality is critical as this shows key opportunities where British meat can look to differentiate in the competitive market. Overall, views on quality show a strong correlation with taste and tenderness perceptions.

Figure 2. Quality purchase drivers

Source: AHDB/Two Ears One Mouth, Dec 2020

The overarching themes of taste, tenderness, origin and appearance had some role to play. There were a couple of variations by markets, for example, animal breed (Netherlands), animal welfare (Germany) and food safety (Poland) also featured by consumers.

Animal welfare and the use of hormones were important considerations when EU consumers assessed meat production. This shows a real need for British meat exporters to clearly communicate welfare standards and wider industry positions on hormone use, all of which holds strong weight in EU markets. It would help differentiate British meat and, in some cases, justify any price premium on products.

It is important when positioning British meat to EU consumers that core messages around taste, quality and value for money (justifying any price position) are consistently at the heart of communications across multiple markets. There are strong synergies with the domestic We Eat Balanced campaign, so there remains an opportunity to communicate any British differential to consumers on the wider reputational factors, including naturalness, welfare and the environment.

Dairy consumer buying behaviour

To help understand dairy buying behaviour AHDB ran bespoke research in France and Germany looking at the motivations behind purchases. These markets were selected as they are the two largest countries in terms of dairy product value. The study, released in 2021, found there are three key dairy purchase drivers in France and Germany: quality, taste and price/value for money. Wider reputational aspects around dairy production fall slightly behind these purchase drivers, but areas such as animal welfare, hormone-free and naturalness are strong messages that can help underpin the top three purchase drivers.

Some 41% of French consumers and 54% of German consumers agreed British cheese is produced to the same standard as their domestic cheese. In addition, 13% of both French and German consumers agreed that British cheese is produced to a higher quality than domestic cheese. The two key areas in which British cheese performs most strongly, aside from quality, are that:

  • The product is perceived as natural and safe
  • The product has the same high animal welfare standards as French and German domestic cheeses

However, British cheese was viewed to underperform in terms of traceability and hormone-free compared with German domestic cheese.

Taste and flavour are widely related to the perceived quality of cheese. British cheese performs well in terms of perceived taste when compared with German domestic cheese; however, it underperforms compared with French domestic cheese. Over 50% of French and German consumers are willing to purchase British Cheddar cheese, whereas other regional British cheeses, such as Wensleydale, are less likely to be bought. Therefore, driving taste perceptions of all British cheese through messaging is crucial, especially in the French market.

Keeping taste, quality and value for money at the heart of communications is important across Europe and there are strong and positive messages that exporters can adopt. For dairy exports, quality messaging can help differentiate a product and make it stand out. Exporters can tell a strong British heritage message about the product, with a use of imagery to reflect what consumers can enjoy both in terms of taste and naturalness.

More depth around behaviours and market context for meat and dairy are covered in AHDB’s Horizon report Exploring the EU: Understanding consumer needs.