Consumer Segmentation in the Food Industry: A New Approach

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Consumers behaviours are increasingly complex. A consumer segmentation model for the food industry must be multidimensional

The decisions consumers make about food are influenced by more factors than ever before, which means a consumer segmentation model that uses single variable such as age, need or gender is out of date. This creates a big problem for food brands, many of which innovate based on an overly simplistic approach.

To create an updated approach to market segmentation that accounts for today's fluid behaviours, attitudes and desires, Kerry studied thousands of consumption occasions across more than 100 product categories. The resulting consumer segmentation model, which informs our ConsumerFirst tool, helps food brands better identify areas of opportunity, refine innovation and focus marketing campaigns to appeal to broader consumer segments.

A Flexible Consumer Segmentation Model
Not long ago, consumer groups were assigned to a primary driver such as “health” or “pleasure” and were perceived as remaining static, regardless of time and place. But busy, on-the-go and always-on lifestyles make people harder to pin down.

Today, people eat five to eight times day, essentially doubling the number of food-based decisions they make, and many food choices are made on the fly, based more on impulse than planning. To update our understanding of consumers—and identify new opportunities for innovation—we gathered feedback from 8,500 individuals in five European markets across 18,000 consumption occasions.

At first, our results looked like a series of contradictions. But as we dug deeper, clusters began to form, shaping a fresh model of consumer motivation. In addition to needs, we found consumer behaviours tend to be defined by powerful forces including:

  • mindset
  • location
  • consumption occasion
  • company 

Most importantly, across the board, decisions tend follow a “purity curve”, with intentions moving from health to experiential along a typical daily food journey.

Understanding the Purity Curve for Food and Beverage
Regardless of how health-conscious an individual is or isn’t, our new research shows that most people begin with righteous thoughts and disciplined decisions on Monday morning, then move away from these as the day and week progress. Essentially, what starts as rational and conscious behaviour morphs into a more emotional, primal and pleasurable series of choices.

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Here are the primary drivers of food decisions throughout the day:
Morning: Mornings are typically driven by the need for more healthy, functional choices.
Afternoon: As the day progresses, consumers need a tasty refuel to keep them going.
Evening: Once evening arrives, consumers look for more pleasurable and relaxing solutions to unwind.

Snacking motivations throughout the day: from purity to pleasure

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These characteristics are general guidelines, not hard and fast rules. For example, when dining out, whatever the time of day, people tend to choose products that appeal to the senses such as ones with unusual colour or texture.

Identifying Product Gaps Along the Purity Curve
For every occasion, there’s a consumer need food manufacturers can help meet. And for every product, there are variations in formulation and marketing that can affect purchasing decisions.

For instance, our research found that in the morning at a popular food chain, people want refreshment and fuel such as a basic energising beverage without an abundance of sugar, calories or fat. But, starting at about 3 p.m., consumers desire a richer and more sensorial experience—such as more flavour or the visual appeal of an Instagram post.

Similarly, yoghurt consumption peaks early in the day, when people are focused on health and functional nutrition. Because our research indicates people tend to seek savoury and indulgent snacks during the second half of the day, yoghurt brands might want to consider offering products with savoury notes and flavours, more toppings or other aspects that could appeal to an experiential audience in the afternoon or evening.

As products evolve to appeal to a wider group of consumers, marketing plans may need to evolve too. For example, a brand launching a new savoury yoghurt may want position the product as an indulgent experience and time ads to run later in the day to match the consumer mindset.

Kerry’s new consumer segmentation model, ConsumerFirst, can help brands build trust, grow relevancy and gain loyalty. To learn about this proprietary study, including the six consumer segments we identified, contact Kerry.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated from its original publication date of 10, December 2018.

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