Key insights into the minds of Canadian consumers

Laura Aiken
February 23, 2010
Over 25,000 Canadian consumers weighed in with their top choices for the seventh annual BrandSpark Canadian shopper study. The report uncovered key findings in the areas of environmental accountability, with 82 per cent of consumers believing that companies are exploiting environmentally friendly claims. Healthier options in food and beverage topped the trends, with 88 per cent of Canadians believing that “there is a lot I can do with food and nutrition to prevent illness.” The third hot area was private label versus premium brands, with 47 per cent of survey respondents stating that they have purchased more private label/in-store brands versus premium and name brands.

“The survey not only provides us with valuable insights about current products and innovations but also larger movements and shifts in Canadians’ viewpoints and approaches toward what they purchase and more importantly why,” says Robert Levy, president of BrandSpark International.

The recent recession found more Canadians eating at home and being less time crunched than in previous years.

“We can see the impact of the recession on attitudes towards the environment and health – with both losing ground in terms of importance,” says Levy, “even so – the vast majority of Canadians (65 per cent) still like trying new products. People have made a big shift to eat at home more and as a result are spending more time and money in the grocery store. Finding new products that really deliver is more important than ever, especially with shoppers demanding greater value for money. Canadians (73 per cent) also enjoy cooking at home more and aren’t as time crunched as we might think.”

Environmental accountability
“Over the past seven years since we’ve been conducting the survey, environmental accountability has grown to become a primary concern for Canadian consumers,” says Levy. “Consumers are demanding companies to be more accountable in terms of their environmental claims and they are willing to pay for products with realistic and tangible claims such as reduced packaging.”

Sixty-nine per cent of Canadians surveyed felt that it is important that a new product is better for the environment, a slight decrease from 76 per cent as reported in 2009.Eight-two per cent of Canadians still feel that companies are exploiting environmentally friendly claims for marketing purposes, virtually no change from the same survey last year. Packaging is still one of the top environmental concerns with consumers, and 89 per cent believe that manufacturers still have a long way to go to reduce the amount of packaging. Reusable shopping bags are becoming the norm with Canadians as 87 per cent agree to purchase reusable bags to reduce the amount of plastic.

Healthier options in food and beverage
“Healthy living is still the number one concern for Canadians,” says Levy. “Consumers want products with added health benefits and they are willing to pay more for products that will help to prevent illness. One of the most interesting facts is consumer confidence in food safety. We saw an improvement by nearly 10 per cent in 2010 when compared with 2009.”

Eighty-three per cent of respondents want products that offer healthier options, a two per cent increase from the 81 per cent as reported in 2009. Fifty-nine per cent of consumers are concerned about receiving added health benefits from the products that they purchase. Confidence in food safety improved in 2010, with 72 per cent of those surveyed becoming more concerned about food safety, down from 81 per cent in 2009.

Although the debate between natural versus organic products rages on, 60 per cent of Canadian consumers believe that “it is important that a new product is made from all-natural ingredients” and 45 per cent believe that “it is more important to me that a product is natural than organic.”

“Part of this can be explained by consumer scepticism,” says Levy. Among consumers who did not purchase organic products, 53 per cent stated that they “don’t trust that all products labelled as organic are actually organic” and 48 per cent stated that they “are confused by what the term organic actually guarantees.” Levy adds, “It appears that further consumer education is required in the natural versus organic debate”.

Private label VS. premium brands
“Understandably Canadians want more value for their dollar,” says Levy, “and many are turning to private label or in-store brands to deliver. Although consumer perception of private label quality has decreased slightly, more Canadians are still buying private label brands versus premium brands as they perceive they offer extremely good value for money.”

Sixty-one per cent of Canadians think that private label or in-store brand products are just as good as brand name products, a slight decrease from 65 per cent as reported in 2009. Sixty-four per cent of consumers believe that private label brands are usually extremely good value for money. Forty-seven per cent of Canadians have purchased more private label products in the past 12 months.

What makes Canadians buy certain products?
The BrandSpark Canadian Shopper Study also asks why consumers make the purchases that they do. The top five purchase drivers in food and beverage, in order, are: taste, price, fresh, healthy and it looks appetizing.

Global trends
In addition to the BrandSpark Canadian Shopper Study, the company also conducted trend research in several key global markets including the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Australia, Brazil and China.

“What became clear is that on certain issues shoppers globally had similar views but on many critical issues the views of the shoppers in these countries differed significantly – especially in the areas of the economy and confidence,” says Levy.

Canadians (24 per cent) are more confident than Americans (seven per cent) about the economy and have views similar to Australia (28 per cent). Canadians (69 per cent) are much more concerned about the environment than Americans (52 per cent) but still behind the other countries in the survey.

The survey sheds light on consumer attitudes towards several top trends facing the pizza industry, including environmental accountability, organic foods, healthier options and private label products.

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