Innovation and Food: Italian Consumers’ Expectations

The majority of Italians highly evaluate innovation in the food industry: 76% believe innovation is important and one out of four consumers believe it is very important. Innovation is also something related to emotions: 60% of the respondents associate to the concept feelings such as curiosity and exploration.

Overall, 69% of the consumers prefer playing it safe while only 15% define themselves as “strong innovators”. On the other side, we find the so-called “traditionally-oriented” who represent 16% of the sample.

An innovative product is a tasty and healthy ready-meal for 37% of the respondents, while two different groups of 23% of Italians respectively focus on sustainability and on products that offer new flavors and tastes, especially those coming from the re-discovery of ancient or forgotten raw materials.

This is what emerges from the latest BVA Doxa research “Innovation in the Food Industry from a Consumer’s Point of View”. The research was at the center of the interview with Daniela Conti, Head of FMCG at BVA Doxa, and published from the magazine Food–  May issue.

What’s Italians’ stand on food and innovation? On one hand curiosity of new flavors and new emotions associated with food plays an important role in the majority of consumers but, on the other hand, people believe manufacturing companies should communicate the innovative characteristics of their products in a clear and understandable way. This is the picture coming from the latest BVA Doxa research, published in the May issue of the magazine Food, “Innovation in the Food Industry from a Consumer’s Point of View”, which analyzed the expectations and opinions of Italian consumers on the topic of innovation in the food sector. The survey was divided into two phases. The first, qualitative phase involved two focus groups: the first group involved men and women from Milano, between 28 and 56 years old and open to trying new innovative food; the second phase consisted of a quantitative study, carried out via a questionnaire handed to a representative sample of 600 Italians.

INNOVATION IS A STATE OF MIND –Innovation is not only a matter of science and technology, but it is also – and most importantly – an emotional dimension. For 60% of the interviewees, in fact, innovation goes hand in hand with curiosity or exploration, 21% associates the concept to emotions that arouse fantasy or fun; while 13% believe innovation means discovery and wonder. Overall, innovation turns out to be a serious matter for the majority of Italians: 76%, in fact, state innovation in the food sector is important, and 1 out of 4 consumers consider it very important.

But what do we mean with food innovation? The research carried out by BVA Doxa sheds some light on the concept: while taste remains the fundamental component two more intertwined elements should be included: Italian food tradition should be mixed and re-elaborated while taking into consideration new and surprising flavors. Young people consider highly important opening to other cultures and paying attention to sustainability; sustainability is the first step towards innovation and it includes many different issues ranging from ecological packaging to the fight against waste.

INNOVATORS, BUT STILL CAREFUL – BVA Doxa’s research has divided Italian consumers into four structured clusters, based on their consumer behavior and their attitudes towards innovation. The majority of consumers (69%) prefer not to take too many risks and often find themselves dealing with conflicting needs, such as the need to follow a varied and balanced diet and, at the same time, to have available food that can be easily used and cooked. This group of moderate innovators includes two clusters: the “garden explorers” and the “curious explorers”. Garden explorers are mainly women with children and represent 42% of consumers; innovation is seen as a way to bring new methods and products into the daily diet, to try exciting recipes, and to modernize tradition. The remaining 27% corresponds to the “curious explorers”, made up of men mostly. According to these consumers, innovation is a way to be surprised and open to new experiences. Thus, innovation is perceived more as a game or a challenge to discover new flavors, new worlds and new cultures. Two remaining groups are left.  The “strong innovators” (15%) are mainly young people, updated on the new food trends, and willing to try everything that is new on the market. On the other hand, the “traditionally-oriented” are worth 16% of the sample and for them the tradition is everything: family recipes are a heritage to be respected and handed down.

PROFILE OF AN INNOVATIVE PRODUCT – BVA Doxa asked the participants to spontaneously describe what innovation in the food sector represents for them. A semantic analysis reveals four dimensions that can be interpreted along an axis with two polarities: on one hand, production and cultivation, while on the other, consumption. Unlike the clusters, which group purchasing profiles and attitudes, the four semantic areas describe the ideal characteristics of innovative food according to consumers.

For 37% of respondents, an innovative product is “a tasty ready-meal”. In this case, innovation is associated with a ready-made and easy-to-consume food, which is also good and tastes well. On the other hand, 23% see innovation in something “eco & safe”, that is, food produced with sustainable cultivation or breeding methods, respecting people and the environment, and distributed with ecological packaging.

Another 23% look at the so-called “new tradition”: a food production that aims at the discovery and spread of new flavors which, at the same time, maintain some sort of continuity with tradition. This category includes, for example, baked products made of flour deriving from the grinding of ancient grains, or alternative products such as “non-meat” and the plant-based industry. Finally, 17% consider “nature on the plate” innovative: the important aspect here is for the food to be organic and healthy.

COMPANIES’ ROLE – In this context, what role do companies play? According to consumers, companies in the food innovation sector should guide consumers into the sector. Companies should open consumers’ mind and excite them with new offers and proposals which should remain accessible, while guarantee trust, invest in technology, and have some sort of vision that enables them to stay updated on the latest trends. Companies’ role is mainly educational, therefore a simple, clear and widespread communication on both digital and traditional platforms is essential too.

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