5 insights from the search for a suitable product based on food surpluses for vulnerable target groups

5 insights from the search for a suitable product based on food surpluses for vulnerable target groups

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Processing food surpluses into healthy products that are affordable for vulnerable groups: that is the aim of Robin Food, a project by Riso Samenlevingsopbouw Vlaams-Brabant, Rikolto, Colruyt Group, enVie and KU Leuven with the support from EIT Food. But which products need to be developed? Amy Verbeke of Samenlevingsopbouw Riso Vlaams-Brabant shares the 5 most important insights the partners learned from the market research.

English subtitles are available via the settings menu in the video.

1. Health and sustainability are important - even when you are struggling financially

People are well aware of the importance of good nutrition for their health and for the environment. Yet, converting this conviction into action is even more difficult for you if you are in a vulnerable position.

Price can be an obstacle, but even in freely distributed food packages, you rarely have the choice to go for healthy products. Moreover, you often lack the "mental space" to make such considerations when you are mainly trying to make ends meet.

In conclusion, there is definitely a huge potential for healthy products that are easy to prepare and accessible through regular channels.

2. Healthy is expensive, unhealthy is cheap - at least that is the perception

Healthy eating is often positioned as a lifestyle. Just look at the weekend editions of newspapers. Many products in the healthy category are also positioned towards higher income groups and are therefore more expensive. Therefore, in our research, people associate healthy with "expensive" and unhealthy with "cheap".

However, this does not necessarily have to be the case. Depending on your eating pattern, sometimes it is true, and sometimes it is not. If we look at the international literature on the cost of food per kilocalorie (kcal/€), it turns out that healthy products are often cheaper than unhealthy ones. Although this differs between rich and poor countries, between city and countryside and even between neighbourhoods and districts within the same city.

3. Taking diversity into account = seizing market opportunities

During focus groups discussions in Belgium, the importance of the right message on the label to appeal to more target groups became apparent. For example, the statement "halal" makes the product instantly more attractive to consumers with a Muslim background.

The addition of meat also proved to have limited or no added value for our target group. With a 100% vegetable product, however, you can reach all eaters.

4. Easy and surprising products have an advantage

People are seduced by convenience. This applies to just about all consumers, but certainly to those whose heads are full of financial and other concerns. Retailer data shows that for people with a small budget, these products are especially popular: unprocessed products (eggs, fruit, vegetables, milk, ...), all kinds of spreads (honey, jam, chocolate paste), fish, fruit, canned vegetables and sauces.

Yet, research has shown that vulnerable consumers still cook a lot. For the new product to be part of the Robin Food project, it is therefore important to offer something surprising that the target group would not spontaneously cook by themselves. Or something that is easy to prepare and/or easy to combine into a more elaborate dish.

5. Working with surpluses is challenging

Not all vegetables are in surplus throughout the year. This depends on a whole range of factors: the weather, existing sales contracts, consumer trends, logistics, etc. Consequently, working with surpluses is not easy. It means that you cannot offer the same product the whole year round, or that your product composition must be able to evolve in line with the food surpluses.

Collecting surplus fresh produce from supermarkets poses major challenges. Transporting and storing fresh produce again in the best possible condition increases costs quickly, which puts pressure on the economic viability of the model. In Belgium, surplus fruit and vegetables are therefore delivered directly via the fruit and vegetable auctions, which simplifies logistics and thus keeps costs down.

What's next?

Based on these insights, we have started developing a new product: a vegetable sauce. This product has the advantage that you can vary the composition based on the available vegetable surpluses. Now we have to dive deeper into the combinations of colour, texture and taste that appeal most.

After the prototype is tested on the production line, the sauce is presented to focus groups and other tasters for a taste test. Meanwhile, we continue to look for suitable sales channels and methods that keep production costs under control, in order to keep the price accessible. So market research is never really 'finished'.

English subtitles are available via the settings menu in the video.