Consumer research commissioned by APAL on why people buy apples and pears will underpin the development of new industry strategies to grow consumption.
Key industry stakeholders concerned at the lack of current consumer behaviour data tasked APAL in 2017 with commissioning a robust study into why people buy apples and pears.
APAL engaged Melbourne-based research agency The Source to conduct the study and answer some critical questions: ‘Are you personally buying less apples/pears?’ and ‘If yes, why?’; ‘What are the drivers behind your purchasing and most recent change in purchasing?’.
To sharpen our understanding of these questions, we focused specifically on the levers growers have most influence on:
• Price (or the ‘value’ equation); and
• Quality (What is quality to apple and pear consumers and how do we currently measure up to expectations?).
To create outcomes and a report which would be respected by retailers and industry, we commissioned a combination of consumer groups, accompanied shopping trips, in-store intercepts and a big online quantitative survey. It was important that much of the work was conducted in retail stores when consumers were making purchasing decisions. The stores were multi-state, covering both semi-rural and metropolitan locations. Findings were then tested in a robust survey of over 2,000 respondents.
The findings – apples
Of the broader concepts uncovered by the research, which spanned both apples and pears, having consistent quality was most important. In apples that quality was assessed visually and physically and defined as – firm feel, vibrant colour, round shape and crisp texture. “If an apple is not crisp, it is not a good apple.”
Retailers have used point-of-sale promotional material and advertising to condition consumers to expect perfectly rounded, blemish free apples with a vibrant colour. They are reluctant to pick up a product that has anything on it that could be considered an imperfection, unless it was purchased from a farmers’ market.
There was also a sense that apples lack the dynamism and excitement of other ‘newer’ fruits namely berries, avocados, mangoes and pomegranates. That energy is driven by taste, versatility and sharp or salient health benefits (superfood claims). Apples were seen as convenient and dependable, but a bit boring by comparison.
Category dynamism for apples will be achieved through switching consumers to branded/premium apples which have established some of these ‘modern’ and ‘fun’ cues. It must be noted though that consumers can’t find the headspace to absorb benefits, new varieties and brands, or sharper health claims, if they have to spend time concerned about quality.
The most compelling finding is that consumers aren’t particularly price sensitive when it comes to apples. Apples are seen as money well spent due to the fact they last, they get eaten by everyone (no waste) and they are less expensive than more exotic fruits. As such, they are a staple purchase, hold their price well and show little price fluctuation.
Overall, 62 per cent of respondents said that if price moved it would not affect their purchasing volume. But, this must be underpinned by dependable quality within their variety/brand repertoire. Nothing will work if the quality is patchy.
Other key findings were around loyalty to variety. Great quality in another commodity did not translate to a consumer switching. This shows that quality is the responsibility of all growers and not just those growing managed varieties. New snacking applications and new forms of consumption are peripheral to improving the quality of the product offer.
The findings – pears
Pears are viewed as conventional and old fashioned, without the nostalgia of an apple. They are not rejected for this, they are simply not thought of. Relatively few people knew the various varieties or how to ripen pears, and there was no commonly-identified criteria that could be used to select a good pear. When product knowledge is low, consumers fall back on their negative perceptions. And on this, pears fall down on many of the important areas of value consumers use to assess a fresh product for purchase.
They are difficult to ‘catch’ at perfect ripeness at home, have niche versatility, the health benefits are not well defined, they’re awkward to eat, damage easily and are not dependable in quality. The pear’s sense of value comes from the fact they are cheap. The nuances of apples are not perceived in pears – their purchase frequency is tied very much to price. Unfortunately for growers, at the moment there is an expectation from consumers that pears will remain the lowest priced fruit.
With limited understanding of pears, consumers shop for them using the same criteria they judge apples on – shiny/vibrant, brightly coloured, perfectly shaped. Many therefore buy products that don’t fit their taste preference (Corella) and avoid products that would suit their preferences (Beurré Bosc). The gritty, rustic look of a Beurré Bosc doesn’t chime with consumers because they don’t know what to expect in terms of taste and the texture will be largely inconsistent.
However, a good pear was seen as an ‘indulgence’ and it was common for respondents to report a good pear ‘is like no other, absolutely amazing’ and beats a good apple for taste. Indulgent, but elusive: ‘either too ripe, or not ripe enough’. Therefore, we wanted to understand whether consumers have the bandwidth to be educated about choosing the right pear given consumers think pears:
• are an old-fashioned product
• have limited versatility
• are not very desirable
• have questionable health benefits
• are simply not as interesting as other fruits.
The answer to that has to be ‘yes’ given what a good pear can deliver — we just need to help them experience this sensation of indulgence more often. At the heart of any education has to be something that sheds the image of a boring, old-fashioned product. We need to have some fun with them, and introduce some levity. Consumer connection is important as well.
APAL will work back through the working groups for pears and apples respectively. Those groups have been assembled based on competency and access to the market, and will form these insights into a coherent high-level category strategy. This will guide initiatives for growers, retailers and consumer marketing.
Supply, quality, price strategy, terms of trade, category segmentation, category management, consumer experience in stores and at home will all be addressed through these working groups. The objective is a well-developed, considered strategy for the industry to own and implement, which will help to create stronger, sustainable returns for growers.