Market research and consumer protection
A Food Standards Agency case study

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Page 3: Primary and secondary research

Market research can be either primary or secondary. Primary research is new research, carried out to answer specific issues or questions. It can involve questionnaires, surveys or interviews with individuals or small groups.

Secondary research makes use of information previously researched for other purposes and publicly available. This is also known as 'desk research'. Secondary research includes published research reports in a library, surveys or the Internet. It can also include scientific reports produced by medical councils, universities or government, for example, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Heart Foundation and the Department of Health.

The FSA also uses reports produced by research organisations such as MINTEL. These give the results of large scale surveys, which companies commission to learn more about what consumers think of their products. FSA does not make decisions or rely solely on research by third parties, unless its own research supports the findings.

Collecting information

There are different ways of obtaining and analysing information:

  • Questionnaires provide answers to standard questions. These can be carried out by mail, online or face-to-face and can cover a large number of people.
  • Interviews are usually one-to-one and focus on a list of questions.
  • Focus groups enable a number of people to discuss ideas or topics together and provide a range of views.

Organisations often undertake secondary research first to find out what already is known about the subject. It is cheaper than setting up primary research.

As an example, the FSA ran a major television, newspaper and other advertising campaign to raise public awareness of its 'Traffic Lights' campaign. The campaign consisted of three 10-second TV adverts, a poster on a bus side, a six-sheet poster, a press advertisement and an advertorial in the Sun.

The first campaign took place between mid-January and mid-March 2007. A further 10-second TV advertisement was launched on the 5th March. The FSA undertook some primary research interviews to find out if how effective the campaign had been in making people more aware.

Food Standards Agency | Market research and consumer protection