Market research and consumer protection
A Food Standards Agency case study

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Page 2: Market research

Market research is about finding out what customers and consumers think, want or need. For example, market research helps businesses decide on what new products or services they will offer.

Before carrying out market research, it is important to define the aims and objectives of the research, that is, what does the consumer or organisation want to find out and why. These questions guide the market research process and lead to solutions. By analysing the results of market research, a business can improve its products or service in line with what consumers want.

One of the FSA's main aims is to identify what customers want, need or expect to see on food labelling. FSA's objective is to help consumers make informed choices about which foods they buy, for instance, if they had a nut allergy or were on a low calorie diet.

One of the starting recommendations was that front-of-pack labelling should have a user-friendly approach. Customers wanted labelling to provide information about the nutritional content of foods 'at a glance'.

Aims and objectives

To meet the aims and objectives the FSA devised a market research campaign with a series of questions. These included:

  • What sort of information would you like to see on packaging?
  • How could the information be set out for ease of communication?

During 2004/5, FSA carried out an extensive programme of research over four separate studies with consumers, health charities and other stakeholders. These studies considered:

  • the advantages of the various front-of-pack labelling formats compared against a benchmark of 'no signposting'
  • what products the signposts would be useful for
  • how consumers would use the signposting to help buying decisions
  • consumers' preferences for the format of the label.

Outcomes of research

The outcomes of this programme of research helped to develop the 'Traffic Light' front of pack labelling scheme. Many companies, like Sainsburys, ASDA, Waitrose, Budgens, Londis, McCain Foods, Marks & Spencer and the Co-Operative Society now use the Traffic Light label on their products.

Each year the FSA also carries out face-to-face interviews with consumers to produce its Consumer Attitudes to Food survey. This research method means that people get a chance to say exactly what they think. The research aims to:

  • track people's attitudes to and awareness of food issues
  • improve the public's knowledge and understanding of those areas for which the FSA is responsible
  • help the FSA develop effective communications.

Over 3,500 people gave their views for the 2007 survey. The 2007 survey showed that:

  • many people had an increasing awareness of the '5-a-day' fruit and vegetables message
  • about 30% more consumers were aware that they should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day compared with 2000
  • increasing numbers of consumers are worried about the amount of fat, salt and sugar in food because they understood how these may damage their health
  • a growing number of consumers said that they looked at nutritional information on the labels to check the fat and salt content.

However, the survey showed that there is still room for improvement. It showed that whilst 40% of people snacked on fresh fruit in between meals, almost 35% snacked on biscuits or cakes and a further 20% on crisps or savoury snacks.

Food Standards Agency | Market research and consumer protection