Knowing your consumer – the essential ingredient for marketing nutrition

While numerous companies, large and small, have achieved market success with people with the lowest incomes, many more have failed. There are different factors which contribute to the lack of success in this market, but one that comes up time and time again is: not sufficiently understanding this unique consumer group, says the Sun Business Network’s Hannah Theobold.

The four billion poorest consumers offer vast untapped market opportunities. Not only does the production of bespoke formats and innovations for the low-income consumer help drive profit, but meeting the needs of low-income consumers can help improve their health, wealth and productivity.

For businesses committed to addressing malnutrition through increasing the availability and affordability of nutritious foods, getting the market offering right for low-income consumers   is essential for commercial success.  None more so is this true of nutrition, which can be a hard sell to consumers of all incomes at the best of times. When it comes to food, hunger alleviation not nutrition, is priority for those earning only a few dollars a day. Any spare income is likely to be spent on foods and drinks that taste good or are associated with a higher social standing rather than nutritious, and that can be a challenge to overcome. This shows that assumptions, guess work or extrapolation of experiences of working with and insights from more affluent consumer base won’t work for this market. That’s because these poor consumers have the same aspirations as more affluent consumers, but their immediate environment, needs, wants and preferences are different.

Really understanding the target consumer is therefore critical for commercial success, as well as improved nutrition outcomes. It’s about understanding everything you can about the low-income consumer and their daily lives. It’s about understanding purchasing behaviours (what they buy, why they buy and where they buy plus how much they spend). It’s also about understanding their aspirations and preferences, who they are influenced by. And also understanding what they know about nutrition, including their, attitudes and beliefs, as well as barriers to adopting more nutritious diets. Gathering all of this information together and pulling out key insights will help businesses develop bespoke nutritious products or modify existing ones. It will also help them design new distribution networks as well as tailor made and compelling marketing communications.

However, businesses don’t typically undertake such broad insight research as it’s a luxury that few can neither justify nor afford. Most research is focused on specific products or concepts, rather than conducting an in depth analysis, and understandably so. But undertaking broad insight helps uncover those surprising insights which can ensure that a nutritious product concept, really delivers on what this unique consumer group both needs and demands.

It’s for this reason that the Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network (SBN), one of the four support networks of the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, is working pre-competitively to help collect and compile research findings and insights to share with its business members at both the global and national level. The SBN operates in 13 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and boasts more than 300 business members, the majority of whom are national small and medium enterprises (SMEs), who are committed to addressing malnutrition in all its forms. Understanding consumer habits, beliefs, attitudes and knowledge surrounding nutrition is an emerging as a key want of our business members. However, SBN members cite cost as a big barrier to undertaking this research. As a result, many businesses are unable to utilise consumer insights to develop products and services that can help address malnutrition in the countries within which they operate.

SBN sees the benefit in pre-competitive exploratory research on food and nutrition, where ‘fuzzy’ questions wouldn’t otherwise be asked, as well as the benefit in researching key issues or population groups which businesses alone would not research. By doing this, new insights can be identified and issues better understood.

By making consumer insight more readily available, we envisage that more businesses will utilise the research to improve nutrition, through new product development and/or improved messaging or new population groups being reached. This would result in more affordable, nutritious products being made available on the market and more and more hard to reach consumers accessing good nutrition. We are working too, to encourage businesses to come together to fund research that will lead to business innovations for nutrition and work to show SMEs the value of consumer insight.

We’ve already made a start in conducting research and sharing research findings. In Tanzania for example, the national SBN has worked with AC Nielsen to understand consumers’ attitudes towards and awareness of food fortification, as well as purchase intent. Awareness and understanding of food fortification appears to be low particularly amongst impoverished groups. Business members were surprised to hear that almost 50% of adults surveyed had not heard of food fortification. Because consumer awareness plays a key role in the purchase of fortified foods, SBN members are keen to work together to raise awareness of food fortification, to create more demand for such foods and ultimately contribute to stronger sales and improved nutrition status alike.

In Nigeria, we’ve taken a different approach. Here we’ve worked with Ipsos Healthcare to share findings and insights from research (undertaken for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) to better understand food consumption and spending behaviours across Nigeria, with our local Network, providing our members with access to data they otherwise may not have been able to access. We’re also working to help businesses better understand how to use consumer research and insight, equipping them tools to use market data and insights to identify new business opportunities to improve the nutritional status of Nigerians. Next we plan to help business develop fit for purpose research briefs and bring together businesses to undertake more research into the poorest consumers groups. In the years to come, we hope to see our members use their better understanding of low income consumers to innovate more, to again increase availability and accessibility of nutritious foods.

Ultimately, understanding low-income consumers is not only important for business success, but it is also powerful and essential tool to ensure successful solutions to malnutrition for those most at risk. The SBN is happy to share existing insights with our members as well as any lessons learnt, so if you have any please do reach out. And of course if you want to get involved with the SBN and join us in the fight against malnutrition, please do let us know.

Find out more about and register for our January webinars: Marketing nutritious
foods to the poorest communities

This blog was written for the series on Nutrition and Inclusive Business, launched in partnership with the The Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business in December 2016. The Hub is an online platform where practitioners that are implementing or facilitating inclusive business can gain information, insights and networks to help inclusive business grow. It supports the effective implementation of inclusive business by providing a gateway to information on inclusive business as well as offering insight, analysis and guidance to practitioners.

Published 31 December 2016

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Return to homepage news