Understanding consumer choices to drive sales and repeat adoption of nutritious products

The nutrition sector is full of experts who understand what the human body needs for health.  But the customers tend to be mums buying food for their families, and what they want may be quite different.  Nowhere is insight into consumer purchasing decisions more essential than in nutrition.

In January 2017 the Practitioner Hub partnered with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the hybrid strategies consulting firm Hystra, on a webinar series about marketing nutritious products for base of the pyramid consumers. Years of research and expertise, coupled with many practical examples, led to an engaging presentation and discussion with practitioners around the world that had lessons not only for the nutrition sector, but for inclusive business in general.

Linking in to this month’s theme on consumer insight, Marti van Liere, Director Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition at GAIN and Lucie Klarsfeld McGrath, Senior Project Manager at Hystra shared some surprising results on why consumers choose to buy specific nutritious products, and how inclusive businesses in the nutrition sector are having to learn fast about what their customers want, in order to provide what the experts think they need.  Below are some of the key takeaways and examples from the discussion.

Understand the cause of the problem

In the nutrition sector there is a complex causal chain for malnutrition, including, but not limited to, poor-quality diets and poor-quality health and care environments and behaviours.  Affordability, availability, and awareness of products are some of the issues that inclusive businesses face in reaching base of the pyramid consumers. To solve the problem, there is a need for everyone working in the field, from the public to private sectors, to understand the root cause of the problem and build on this knowledge, to see what role they can play to help solve it.

Recognise the difference between consumer needs and wants

GAIN and Hystra research have shown that sales, and more importantly repeat adoption of nutritious products, is not only reliant on communicating that a product is needed, but additionally ensuring that it is wanted by the consumer.  Issues such as taste, colour and branding are important when a consumer decides to buy a product and can vary between contexts. Understanding consumer preferences is therefore essential for creating a sustainable business and having a lasting impact in this market. In nutrition, this often looks like the below:



Nutri’zaza in Madagascar and Nutri Faso in Burkina Faso are a good example of where companies have understood where the consumer will pay for a convenient product. They sell fortified porridge through an innovative distribution model, which sells one portion of the warm porridge on the door step, creating a quick, easy solution for the mother and a nutritious ready to eat product for the child.

Price is important- but that does not always mean cheap

You can buy the cheapest product, but if you are disappointed by the quality you will not invest the scarce resources you have again. Focusing consumer research on what the key price point is, that balances affordability of a product but does not compromise on quality, or make the product less aspirational, is essential to ensure it is both practical and desirable. 

The chart below shows the range of infant food products available in Cote D’Ivoire. Social enterprise PKL sells the cheapest fortified product (highlighted in red) and although it is eight times more expensive that the basic flour, mothers from low-income areas are still choosing to buy it, as they want to invest in quality food for their children. As one customer said in a feedback survey: ‘I want to buy this, it is the best I can afford for my child’.



Finally, Marti van Liere notes that, although some comparative studies are useful, not all lessons are transferable, so carrying out research with the target consumer while the product and business model are still under development and integrating this feedback into the final output is essential.


Watch the full series, download the presentations and read the FAQ of the two webinars on how to market nutritious products for the base of the pyramid here.

Find out more about nutrition and the BoP in the Hystra & GAIN Report here

This blog is a part of the February 2017 series on Customer intelligence revolutionising business at the Base of the Pyramid in partnership with Acumen Lean Data.  Access the series for interviews with social enterprises Dr.Consulta and D.light, as well as blogs from Business Call to Action, Social Value International and many more.

Anne Salter
Anne Salter
Anne is a development professional. She has undertaken a number of research projects as part of the Ashley Insight team with clients including the World Bank Innovations team, Business Call to Action and the Global Innovation Fund.  Anne has...

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