Applying eye-tracking technology to investigate red meat consumer's purchasing preferences: a case study of the Mangaung Municipality
Lombard, Willem Abraham
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South African consumers are very fond of meat products, as seen from the large share this industry contributes to the total retail value of the country. A shift of power has been seen in the red meat industry whereby the market has become more consumer driven. Consumption statistics for beef and mutton/lamb have shown an increasing trend in recent years, with the trend being stronger for beef. Consumer preferences with regard to red meat products in South Africa have been investigated by researchers in the past, but without the use of eye-tracking. To become more consumer orientated, red meat producers/retailers must adapt by knowing their customers better. By using eye-tracking technology, the researcher is able to improve consumer research. The primary objective of this study is to use eye-tracking technology to analyse and determine red meat consumers’ preferences in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality area of South Africa. Red meat consumers in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality were tested at nine different locations throughout the municipality. This was done to ensure representativeness in the data and 350 consumers were tested in total. During the test, the participants were first asked to complete the eye-tracking test where they were shown different images of red meat products for a period of five seconds each. The product aspects on the images were manipulated in order to test the attention that consumers pay to different aspects. Product aspects that were altered included red meat aspects (e.g. colour and fat), price label information (e.g. price of the pack and packaging date), and quality indicators (e.g. brand and origin certified). After completion of the eye-tracking test, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that contained questions regarding aspects such as monthly red meat budgets, meat consumption trends, and their red meat preferences. By making use of these two sources of data, it was possible to determine what consumers thought was important when selecting their red meat products and comparing it to what consumers actually paid attention to when presented with red meat products. The preferences identified from the post-test questionnaire were ranked against eye-tracking data by making use of Kendall’s coefficient of concordance tests. The results showed that red meat consumers in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality place a high value on the brand of meat that is presented to them. They not only indicated this importance in the questionnaire but also showed it when presented with the test images. Labelling that indicated the nutritional information of the products and certified the breed and different production practices proved to enjoy higher levels of attention than the self-reported data’s ranking would suggest. The opposite was found, however, for labels indicating traceability and after-slaughter practices. A label guaranteeing quality was identified as the most important after-slaughter practice labelling. Production practice labelling that proved to be more important and thus more preferred among consumers were the labels that certified that the meat was produced “greener”. “No antibiotics” labelling was the most preferred form of production practice labelling among the participants. The price of the pack was identified as the price label aspect that enjoyed the highest amount of attention from the participants; this was found while the participants indicated that price per kilogram was the more important aspect of the two. The meaty area of red meat products enjoyed the highest level of attention from the participants and was also ranked as the most important. Fat on the meat was also important to the participants and it influenced the attention they paid to packs of meat. Conclusions drawn from the study were that the participants paid more attention to some red meat aspects that were identified with the assistance of eye-tracking than indicated by the self-reported data. The questionnaire and eye-tracking data confirmed that the brand of meat sold at retailers is important to consumers. If no brand label is provided, consumers will make use of the butchery’s name to determine the value of the presented red meat product. It was determined that consumers were aware of their health and wanted to know how their red meat was produced, where it came from, and what the nutritional value of the meat was. The price of the pack was also identified as the most important aspect on the price label that the participants consulted when presented with a red meat product. While it was confirmed that the meat-only area of both high- and low-fat packs of meat enjoyed the same level of attention from the participants, the total package area (including fat and bone) of lower-fat packs of meat enjoyed higher levels of attention. The findings confirm the improvement that eye-tracking provides in traditional research methods when investigating red meat preferences. An important advantage of the technology is that it shows exactly what consumers pay attention to and for how long when selecting red meat products, and the results are not only based on what consumers say they look at when buying red meat products. Eye-tracking results can therefore be used in various ways to give the producer or retailer a competitive advantage in terms of customers and prospects.