Changing Main Meal Behaviour
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Amidst all the change in our industry, some fundamental principles endure.  Consumers remain habitual in their food choice, especially for evening meals.  They have a limited repertoire of 7-10 meals, that they recycle over weeks, months and often years.  As a nation, our tastes do evolve, but only slowly.  The data shows Spaghetti Bolognese, Roasts, Pizza and Stir Fry as perennial favourites. 


Companies circling the massive evening meal market have a problem and an opportunity.  It is difficult to get a product adopted into a consumer’s repertoire.  But if it is adopted, it becomes lucrative.  A meal in the repertoire may be consumed weekly for the next hundreds of weeks. 


So, how best to persuade consumers to adopt a product or meal?  The government’s Behavioural Insights Unit offers a useful model – EAST .  If you want people to do something different, make it Easy, Attractive, Social  and Timely. 


First, Easy.  Typically, people making evening meals are tired, hungry and ready for the sofa.  Data shows a decades-long shift to meals that are quicker and easier.  Anything you can do to make meals featuring your products quicker and easier will drive success. But with one important proviso.


Second, Attractive.  It is not about ease at all costs.  Consumers have aspiration. They seek good, natural food.  So the sweet spot is meals that are easy but do not feel processed or unnatural.  Bigham’s in ready meals have found this sweet spot.  M&S co-merchandise raw meat, fish and produce with a range of sauces and accompaniments to allow quick “semi-scratch” cooking.  Their Stir Fry offer is another example. 


Third, Social.  We want to believe that we are independent and autonomous in our food choices.  We are not.  We are very influenced by what others do.  Food  companies need to work within social norms.  Behaviours like Meat Free Monday, Fish on Friday, curry or pizza at the weekend, the Sunday Roast, remain powerful cues for people when they think about what to have on a particular day.  Knowing when your product or meal fits the social norms, and reflecting that in the way it is marketed, is important. 


Finally, Timely.  When is the best time to influence meal choice?  Right at the point of purchase is one answer, particularly near to Meat and Fish, which still define the meal for many shoppers.  Schwartz are masters of this, with their display units.  Online grocery especially suits this approach, offering the ability to nudge and suggest added-value products, sauces or accompaniments.  The path to purchase is also important.  For example, capturing commuters thinking about tonight’s meal, with geo-targeted social media or with an A frame outside a convenience store.  Or finding ways to influence consumers online as they search for ideas for tonight’s meal.


So, how to get consumers adopting meals featuring your product?  Think EAST – easy, attractive, social and timely.

Jeremy Garlick is a Partner of Insight Traction, consulting with FMCG and Retail companies.  He was formerly Head of Insight at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Premier Foods.