MSW●ARS Qualitative Insights

Case Study : Ethnography to Guide Retail Marketing Decisions

A food manufacturer was looking to introduce of line of “healthier, natural salty snacks.”  Prior to roll-out, the client, as well as a national grocery chain that was critical to the line’s introduction, needed to better understand consumer perceptions of these snacks relative to existing salty options, and where in the store consumers felt these products would best fit — the ‘traditional’ salty snack aisle with the majority of other products, or the ‘natural foods’ section with a more select array of snacks.

Consumers, who regularly bought salty snacks, including some natural or organic options at least occasionally, were recruited for a series of in-home and in-store interviews.  Prior to the interviews, participants completed a series of assignments, including a grocery and snack purchase journal, and creative exercises related to snacking.

The in-home portion of the interview focused on family eating habits and attitudes on nutrition, understanding where and how snacking fit into the family’s lifestyle, and included pantry and refrigerator audits in order to provide context for all types and brands of food in the household.

The ensuing shopalong portion of the interview was conducted in both the ‘traditional’ salty snack aisle and ‘natural foods’ section, with the test products on-shelf in both departments in order to determine the reaction their presence would elicit from participants.

The research was extremely helpful, not only in guiding the manufacturer’s and retailer’s decisions on how to best market the line of snacks, but also in providing broader learning relative to consumer perceptions of ‘healthy’, ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ foods, and in helping the retailer better understand shopper behavior in the ‘natural foods’ department.