Discovering how consumers think and feel about food and health
Dr Denise Conroy
Dr Denise M Conroy is a Senior Scientist with the Consumer Team at Plant & Food Research, based at the Mt Albert campus. Denise is a Consumer Behaviourist, specialising in understanding the attitudes, emotions, values and cognitions that motivate people to consume specific products, brands or experiences, or to reject these offerings. As an interpretivist researcher Denise is a skilled methodologist, and is very experienced at leading complex teams, across different disciplines, and from diverse backgrounds, to reach a common goal. Much of Denise’s research is Asia focused; current projects include an exploration of how organic labels on fresh fruit and vegetables are processed and interpreted in Vietnam; why organic is considered to be part of status expression in South Korea, as opposed to any reference to sustainability or the green movement, and, as PI of the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge, exploring how Chinese consumers construe the relationships between food and health.
An online survey was undertaken to quantify Chinese consumers’ beliefs, attitudes and perceptions regarding the role of food in maintaining health and wellness. This follows a well-recognised approach in which quantitative data is gathered to support insights uncovered during the 2018 in-home interviews and focus groups. In a new research stream, Chinese doctors who practiced western or Traditional Chinese Medicine were interviewed because of their central role in diagnosing health risks and providing food-related advice to patients. Both of these topics of research address questions that were asked by industry during a series of 12 immersive 1-day workshops – the Programme has now delivered these workshops to 178 participants from 78 New Zealand food and beverage companies. In addition, two workshops with a specific Vision Mātauranga focus have been run for NUKU ki te Puku and Tuaropaki Trust. The research team delivering this research and the workshops was drawn from the University of Auckland, Plant and Food Research, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the University of Otago. Additionally, New Zealand-based research capabilities have been recruited into the programme, including Bentham Laurence Research and Strategy Consultants who analysed the data from the online survey. At a national level, the programme draws on all the major New Zealand academic food-related consumer science capabilities. Research results are available to industry as reports on the High-Value Nutrition website. The workshops, described above, have contributed to industry’s engagement with the data such that each participant leaves having developed their own confidential product opportunity. The key research findings for 2019 are outlined below:
Online survey of 3082 Chinese consumers: Respondents were recruited from Tier 1 and 2 Chinese cities and comprised of a control group (high interest in food and health), and Respondents with self-reported symptoms regarding their metabolic, digestive, or immune health. Overall, the attitudes of consumers in the control group and health condition groups were similar, suggesting that opportunities for High-Value Nutrition are easily extended to those consumers who are well and have a high interest in food and health. Consumers in the health condition groups tended to worry more about being healthy for their family. Despite this, they did less in terms of controlling their diet and paying attention to their health – they often perceived there to be too many barriers, including the pressures of daily life, preventing them from prioritising their health and wellbeing. While consumers were recruited according to specific health conditions, there was considerable overlap in responses. Three natural clusters of consumers were found: (1) appeared to be plagued by a number of health concerns, in particular metabolic concerns; (2) appeared to suffer mostly from gut and immune concerns, while (3) appeared to suffer mostly from colds and sore throats (and to a lesser extent high blood pressure and diarrhoea). This suggests a potential opportunity that some consumers will purchase a series of companion HVN foods.
Interviews with 14 Doctors: Doctors reported having limited training in nutrition, and hospital nutritionists being overwhelmed (there are no private practice nutritionists in China). Consequently, consumers have limited understanding of nutrition and often seek information from trusted social media groups. This information may or may not be accurate. Patient adherence to doctors’ dietary and lifestyle advice is not always high. The doctors were far less keen on their patients taking supplements than they were on the concept of food with proven health benefits. Food with proven health claims from trusted oversees countries such as New Zealand were highly respected. However, these claims needed to have undergone rigorous testing, including human clinical trials under the leadership of a trusted overseas organisation, particularly if the trials took place in China.
Cong, L., Bremer, P. & Mirosa M. (2019). Chinese Consumers’ Perceptions of Functional Foods: A Netnography Study of Foods that Help the Immune System Recover from Air Pollution. Journal of Food Products Marketing. https://doi.org/10.1080/10454446.2019.1626316
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