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FT-oct17-eMag 15 Consumers today are faced with a plethora of bread products…numerous brands, slice sizes, different contents including an increasing array of gluten-free options on offer, and various packaging options. Many products include nutrition claims on their packaging promoting health benefits. Conversely, there are also a multitude of messages from ‘experts’ or celebrities extoling the virtues of low-carb diets and the perils of eating white bread in particular… the whiter the bread, the quicker you’re dead! So how and why do people make their bread choices? We set out earlier this year to examine what consumers are actually buying when it comes to this staple food product, and how they make their purchase decisions. Unbeknown to us at the time, two earlier Lincoln researchers had questioned consumers about bread almost 40 years earlier. Similar to our study, the 1978 research undertaken by Roderick Brodie and Michael Mellon questioned Christchurch residents about their bread purchasing and consumption patterns. Their study was undertaken because of a 20% decline in per capita bread consumption in New Zealand between 1960 and 1972. This article compares the views and behaviours of today’s bread consumers with their counterparts from yesterday. The 1978 research used door-step interviews of householders who were asked about their household’s bread purchasing and consumption behaviour. This study included purchasing at supermarkets as well as other outlets such as dairies, bakeries or hot bread shops. More recently, we collected data - using a structured questionnaire - from consumers in the bread aisle of supermarket stores at the time they had chosen a bread to purchase. Both studies examined white versus nonwhite breads. In the 1978 study, 89% of the respondents purchased white bread and almost 52% only consumed white bread, whilst 8% only consumed wholemeal and just 3% only consumed brown bread. Times have very much changed. In our study, just 23% of the intercepted respondents had selected a white bread. This suggests that messages relating to the healthiness of eating more grainy types of bread appear to have been accepted by consumers today. Nevertheless, there is still a market for white bread; some respondents told us they buy it because their children or grandchildren prefer bread “without bits in it.” Others told us that they like multigrain for toast at breakfast time, but prefer to eat sandwiches made with white bread for lunch. Interestingly, the earlier study asked consumers about their consumption of white, brown and wholemeal bread; no mention was made of multigrain bread which is so prevalent today. Brand loyalty was also measured in both studies. The 1978 study reported 70% of households ‘always’ or ‘nearly always’ purchased the same brand of bread. Similarly, today’s consumers also demonstrate strong brand loyalty, with more than 75% of respondents ‘often’ or ‘always’ selecting the same loaf of bread to purchase. As with most fast-moving consumer goods, bread can be described as a low-priced and low-involvement product. For these types of products, consumers are likely to repeatedly purchase the same brand as a way to simplify their purchase decision and thus reduce the time and energy they spend. The product they frequently or always purchase will be one that has satisfied them in the past and continues to do so. Our results indicate the need to simplify and speed up staple food purchasing decisions was just as relevant for busy consumers 40 years ago as it is today. This degree of brand loyalty may make it difficult for bread marketers to encourage switching behaviour. Today’s and yesterday’s consumers were questioned about the factors that were important to them when choosing bread. Respondents in the 1978 study indicated that ‘freshness’ was the most important influence on their bread purchasing. Other factors that were important included ‘whether the bread is wrapped’, ‘crust’, ‘shape’ and ‘price’ in that order, whilst ‘texture’, ‘cleanliness of shop’, ‘keeping quality’ and ‘ingredients’ were also mentioned. In the current study, the factors most considered by consumers when purchasing bread included ‘price’, ‘healthiness/nutrition’, ‘taste/ flavour’, ‘softness/freshness’ and ‘texture’. In terms of price, more than half of all respondents consider this factor when purchasing bread, and of these, more than 90% had noticed if the loaf they chose was discounted. There are some similarities across these results (namely, the importance of freshness and texture), but some key differences too. The fact that healthiness or nutrition is a factor today and not mentioned 40 years ago suggests modern consumers are more aware of the link between the foods they consume and their health and wellbeing. Another difference is that much of the bread now available to consumers - especially in supermarkets - is wrapped and thus this factor is not mentioned today. Keeping quality is also less of an issue today, as most consumers are freezing bread and taking out just the number of slices they need to consume for any given situation. In the earlier study, 39% of respondents stored bread in unventilated containers, 33% in ventilated containers, 13% in deep freezers and 7% in refrigerators; at that time, storing bread in freezers was not a common behaviour. In 1978, more than 80% of households were regularly eating bread at breakfast time, 58% (weekdays) to 65% (weekends) ate bread at lunch, and 18% with evening meals. Today, less than half of consumers (47%) consume bread ‘often’ or ‘always’ at breakfast time. This result shows the growth of alternative breakfast foods (including cereals and smoothies) over the past four decades has had an impact on bread consumption. It may also be possible that consumers, in response to messages they hear, have chosen to reduce their consumption of bread. Bread consumption

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