Consumers are bombarded with hundreds of product messages every day. How do businesses ensure that their products are reaching the right target audience with a relevant message? Without knowing the consumer and what their motivations and needs are, valuable time and money are wasted. In our current economy, this is not something most businesses can afford. Identifying what matters most to the consumer can build a bridge between a product and the consumer, ultimately increasing sales. Caravan Ingredients creates this connection for the consumer, which can be achieved through consumer insights.

Understanding the consumer

All shoppers are not equal. In order to begin identifying strategic growth areas, consumer groups must be identified. Understanding the consumer and shopper is the first step in solving problems and identifying strategies. Four key questions to ask are:

What is the value of each consumer segment?

What are the demographics and lifestyle elements of these consumers?

How are they different from other consumers?

What are the key motivations for purchase?

Developing a deep understanding of the consumer is an ongoing process. Businesses need to immerse themselves in their consumer’s lives whenever possible. Because consumers often verbalize how they want to shop and/or purchase in a category, immersion with the core consumer helps to better identify stated behaviors versus actual purchase behaviors. Ultimately, a deeper understanding of this consumer will cut to the core what matters most to the consumer. This knowledge will enable a business to identify opportunity areas and develop and position their products more effectively.

The why behind the buy

Data alone is not an insight. Leveraging data to understand consumers’ needs and providing a solution to that need is the objective. There are numerous syndicated data sources available to identify market trends and individual product performance. However, to truly begin to understand the consumer in a specific region, primary or proprietary research is a must. For example, pick up any paper today and it will mention health and wellness in the United States. Syndicated data can confirm this trend, but the “why behind the buy” is only discovered by engaging with consumers through primary research. Knowing that health and wellness is an overall trend is important, but being able to dig deeper and to identify what that means for a business’ core consumer will help to identify potential areas for new opportunities.

Supplier input with consumer insights

In a consumer-centric economy, retailers and suppliers must be willing to discuss and share consumer insights. By using these insights, suppliers and retailers can work together to create the optimal product assortment and a captivating shopping experience. Suppliers must create and provide products that meet a consumer need, and retailers must create the best overall consumer experience by having the right products available at the right time, with the right value during the shopping occasion. The good news is that more retailers and suppliers are starting to understand the value of consumer insights. Businesses that focus their efforts on the consumer will likely be the big winners.

Applying insights to your business

When a business incorrectly identifies their consumer, it greatly impacts their potential business. Imagine that a business based on previous experience identified its core consumer as families with a female head of household, age 35-44 years old. This same business could discover through use of syndicated household panel data that their consumer is actually a one- to two-person household with an age greater than 60 years old. Just by discovering this fact alone, a business can identify products that would have stronger appeal to a smaller household with older consumers versus the products they originally offered.

This serves as a reminder that just like consumers, manufacturers, suppliers and retailers are getting hit with numerous inputs on a daily basis. It is important to stay objective and leverage consumer insights not only to inspire product development but to also validate marketplace actions. Many suppliers are in a position to help their customers obtain the valuable information that consumer insights bring to the table.

Businesses are encouraged to reach out to their suppliers for help in understanding the current and future state of the market and to confirm who their core consumer really is. In doing so, businesses can feel certain that they are selling the right product, at the right time, to the right consumer.

Marge O’Brien is the consumer insight manager for Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kan., and is certified through the Category Management Association. O’Brien can be reached at