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Studies on Motivation to Purchase Dairy Alternatives - Are there Messages for the Egg Industry?

02/18/2018

A recent survey of 1,000 U.S. adults who consume alternatives to dairy products at least three days per week was conducted by Comax Flavors.  At the outset it is evident that the study was biased in that the survey was initiated and conducted by a supplier of products to the dairy-alternative industry and that the requirement for participation involved regular consumption of alternatives to dairy products. The results of any consumer study should be evaluated in the light of the questions asked. Comax Flavors obviously has “skin in the game” in wishing to sell products to their customers.  Notwithstanding the possible influence of bias and simplicity associated with a presumed questionnaire-style survey, attributes of interest to regular consumers of alternatives to dairy were determined. These included flavor by 47 percent of respondents, price by 37 percent, perceived health benefits by 36 percent and an “all-natural” claim by 30 percent. Millennials and Generation Z were concerned over sustainability and welfare to a higher extent than Baby Boomers.

 

Examples of inherent bias in consumer surveys are indicated by a 2006 poll which identified 3.3 percent of adults in the U.S. as self-described ‘vegetarians’.  This survey was conducted by a publication Vegetarian Resource.  In 2014 a study conducted by Global Data determined that six percent of U.S. consumers were “vegan” which appears to unacceptably high. In the absence of clear definitions of the categories of dietary persuasion among consumers results must be held in question.

 

The conclusion from various studies employing simple questionnaires is that the attributes favored by consumers appear to be multifactorial. The Comax study indicates that the population responding to the survey apparently “wanted it all” In contrast Conjoint Analysis of consumers purchasing eggs would allow rating of attributes and consider trade-offs with respect to price, quality, organoleptic properties, welfare and sustainability.  With simple surveys, everyone rates common attributes equally irrespective of price. With more sophisticated market research techniques, consumers will denote, even if unintentionally, the motivating factors leading to a purchase decision.  This is illustrated by the fact that in 2008 consumers in California when questioned in HSUS-motivated surveys overwhelmingly were in favor of cage-free eggs but without any consideration of price. 

 

We now have approximately 24 percent of the national shell-egg flock housed in non-caged systems but with demand plateauing at current prices in relation to generic eggs derived from caged flocks.  Had surveys been conducted using appropriate methodology, the willingness to pay for perceptions of enhanced welfare would have become apparent among consumer demographics.  It was not in the interest of the welfare organizations opposed to cages to either determine or disclose that only an affluent majority were willing to pay for enhanced welfare.

 

When basing $10 billion decisions on replacing housing going forward 10 years, it is advisable to understand consumer motivation and to make appropriate decisions.  The move to displace conventional cages with alternatives including aviaries and floor systems was promoted on the basis of sentiment, ignoring economic realities. The campaign was conducted with a strong element of coercion of QSRs, members of the FMI and the NRA by the HSUS and kindred activist associations. These groups are less concerned over flock and herd welfare than promoting a vegan agenda, generating funds, self-aggrandizement and apparently an undercurrent of unethical and hypocritical practices including harassment.

 

The message from the dairy-alternative and animal-confinement surveys is that any slipshod research can be manipulated to achieve any desired outcome. Victorian Prime Minister of Britain, Benjamin Disraeli stated “there are lies, damn lies and statistics”. The same holds true for surveys. If we are to base multi-billion dollar decisions on surveys of consumer perceptions of need and wants at least let us apply advanced and reliable techniques of market research.