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  • Writer's pictureGemma Lenoci

'Free from' and 'Rich in' in the world of biscuits: a market survey

At the end of the 2020 changes in consumption occurred, in particular a greater focus on health and a relative increase in health expenditure - mainly due to the pandemic situation - on consumers' side. In addition, the vision of healthy eating has been changing and concepts such as 'healthy indulgence' have emerged.

When we talk about "free from" we refer to all those products that communicate on the pack the absence of some nutritional component while, on the contrary, "rich in" foods communicate the presence of some elements. Every year Osservatorio Immagino surveys the claims belonging to one or the other category, identifying the volume and value sales of each of them. "Preservative-free' is the mainstay in the 'free from' group, while 'rich in fibre' and 'wholemeal' are the most common in the 'rich in' category.

It was decided to investigate the phenomenon "free from"/"rich in" by analysing the biscuit market, the one best suited to the research, since this type of product is the one which can present on its packaging the widest variety of claims identified by Osservatorio Immagino. We tried to subdivide the market into sub-categories identifying those of interest for the research, for example "whole/multicereal biscuits". All segments of interest show positive growth rates for the period 2020-2025. An interesting subdivision was proposed by Gianluca Viola, marketing manager of "Doria", in which the biscuits are divided according to the benefits proposed or claims communicated on pack.

The first analysis carried out was a qualitative one using 10 semi-structured in-depth interviews. The insights gained were the basis for the construction of the subsequent quantitative questionnaire. Relevant attributes were investigated in the choice phase and, in particular, packaging colours and their associations with product benefits. The influence of the brand on the purchase of healthy biscuits was investigated and, finally, the most relevant claims were investigated by excluding the least observed ones from the questionnaire.

The questionnaire was constructed on the basis of 42 questions and 1084 valid answers were obtained for the analysis. The analyses were carried out with the statistical software SPSS. The sample was very concentrated: there is a female prevalence (87%) and it is concentrated in the 20-23 age group. The majority tends to buy several brands at the same time and this confirms the low loyalty in this category.

As a first step we chose to identify significant relationships between qualitative variables through the use of contingency tables. What emerged was a difference between men and women regarding the propensity to buy biscuits with benefits, with women being more likely to do so. Also the motivation to buy benefit biscuits varies: women are more motivated by the desire to reduce sugar and guilt, whereas men seek out a benefit biscuit because of the associated naturalness and taste. Some behavioural variables are also significantly related: the frequency of physical activity practised was found to have a linear relationship with the purchase of benefit biscuits. Also of interest is the tendency of those who habitually buy health biscuits to consume portions.

Classical segmentation, consisting of factor analysis and clustering, was performed in order to identify three groups of consumers grouped on the basis of their similarity in terms of desired benefits. The 12 items assessed were reduced to five factors: nutritional aspects, sustainability, pack aesthetics, taste of the biscuit, quantity-price ratio.

Three clusters emerged from the analysis:

- Persuasive: they attach more importance to the aesthetics of the pack, buy mainly cocoa or multi-flavour biscuits, are more easily influenced by communications and buy benefit biscuits in search of lightness and naturalness but also taste;

- Health consumers: Nutritional aspects are the most important elements, they tend to buy more healthy biscuits especially to reduce sugar or fat, it is the least influential cluster in terms of marketing communication;

- Biscuit shoppers: Quantity-price is the most important aspect, this cluster is looking for a cheap product without looking at nutritional aspects; they buy more cocoa biscuits and are very habitual.

The central analysis of the research is the conjoint analysis: 16 offer profiles were judged in terms of probability of purchase based on the combination of 8 attributes: brand, colour, price, presence or absence of claims such as "wholemeal flour", "no added sugar", "rich in fibre", "-40% fat", "no preservatives". From a first analysis of the usefulness of the attributes on the total sample, it is interesting to note that the brand Mulino Bianco - mainstream brand in the category - is the one that presents greater usefulness than Misura - specialised brand - and Conad - private label. This indicates that in this category the best known brand is associated with greater reliability, even for the healthy biscuits subcategory. Overall, the favoured offer profile with a score of 6.6/9 is composed of the following attributes:

brown outer wrapper

brand name "Mulino Bianco

price of €1.44

claim "no added sugar"

"wholemeal flour"

"no preservatives"

"-40% fat"

"rich in fibre".

Looking at the importance of the attributes in percentage terms, the total sample gives the highest importance to the brand, 30%. Among the claims, "no added sugar" is definitely the most important one when choosing (18%). The least important attribute is colour with only 1.6% importance.

The same analysis by gender provides new insights: men give more weight to price in the choice phase and consider "no preservatives" to be the most important claim; women give more importance to all health claims and especially to "no added sugar".

Checking the differences in terms of the importance attributed by the various clusters, what has been described after segmentation is reconfirmed. The persuadables cluster assigns more importance to the brand than the other consumer groups, as they are the most influential and the best subjects for communication. They are the most influential and the best subjects for communication. The health consumers are those who, in the choice phase, attach less importance to the brand and to the price than the others but more importance to all claims referring to product benefits. They are, in fact, willing to pay a higher price for a product with better nutritional values. The last cluster, the biscuit makers, are strongly interested in price and do not consider important the health claims on the pack.

If a company produces within the category 'biscuits', it cannot ignore the change in consumption today: consumers are increasingly looking for healthy products and it is therefore necessary to meet the growing demand. Furthermore, in the healthy sector, packaging is a key communication tool as it characterises the product with its benefits and differentiates it from the competition. It is necessary to study specific habits and to consider not only aesthetic but also functional aspects, for example bags containing single portions. Finally, within this sector, the two claims to be considered are "no added sugar", addressing a mainly female target, and "wholemeal", the most popular at a general level.

As the importance of the brand is fundamental in this category, the correct clusters should be addressed according to the type of brand. A mainstream brand, such as Mulino Bianco, should target persuadables looking for products from brands they know. A private label such as Conad should target biscuit eaters and offer them low priced products. A specialised brand such as Misura should think of targeting health-conscious people who are willing to pay a higher price in search of specific benefits.

In conclusion, it can be said that the health biscuit sector represents a fertile ground for both those who want to create a dedicated brand and for those brands already present in the biscuit market. This is because it would be possible to reach new target groups, which are constantly increasing in recent years. Success comes from communication as this is a highly dynamic sector where brand loyalty is low. The key to success is to devise a strong communication strategy, especially linked to packaging and the study of the most appropriate claims for the chosen target.


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