Current events

Open Evidence will collaborate with the London School of Economics and BDI Research to conduct a study on the impact of dual food quality on consumers

  Photo: Unsplash/kevin laminto

Photo: Unsplash/kevin laminto

The project will explore the economic and consumer-related implications of similarly branded food products with different compositions in different countries

The free movement of goods is one of the four fundamental freedoms of the European Single Market. This circulation does not necessarily mean that every product must be identical in every corner in Europe. Nowadays there are companies using different recipes, formulations or standards for products sold in different countries under the same brand name and with the same, or very similar, packaging. A consortium of the London School of Economics (LSE), the spin-off of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) Open Evidence and BDI Research (Bloc de Ideas), funded by the European Commission, will research the impact of dual food quality on consumers.

Whilst consumers are free to buy the products of their choice, business operators are also free to market and sell goods with different composition or characteristics, provided that they fully respect EU legislation (whether on the safety of products, labelling or other horizontal legislation). In the last three years, several studies conducted in different member states have shown some food products contain different nutritional values, ingredients, size, weight and other attributes depending on the market where they are sold.

Product differentiation can be legitimate and even welcome when it satisfies local consumer preferences. For instance, for food and drink operators, a "constant quality" does not necessarily mean identical products across the different geographical areas. Indeed, it is common for food business operators to tailor their products to local consumer preferences and other conditions. In particular, sensory optimisations are performed to fit dietary habits that may be very different from one region to another. Furthermore, there may be objective differences in sourcing, due to the geographical and/or seasonal availability of raw materials. However, these practices do not always respect the legislation, and some food companies have been charged with selling products of lower quality in Eastern European countries.

In this context there is a strong need for a better understanding of the economic and consumer-related implications of practices differentiating composition of similarly branded food products. Comparative tests conducted in the several member states have confirmed the quality differences of some food products in home market when compared to products made by the same producer sold under the same brand but different member state. Following these tests, the dual food quality issue became one of the political priorities of the Commission.

The “Empirical testing of the impact of dual food quality on consumers” study will investigate how consumers’ purchase decisions are affected by the fact that the same brand offers seemingly identically branded food product in another part of the Single Market with a different composition (i.e. dual quality). “The project aims to fill knowledge gaps about these particular commercial practices”, explained George Gaskell, Special Advisor to the Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and scientific director of this project.

During the 14-month long study the consortium will collect data in six countries – Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, Finland, Romania and Spain– through experiments online and in the lab. “Overall, the data collected should allow us to identify key factors affecting consumers’ choices in the presence of dual quality issues,” said Cristiano Codagnone, co-founder of the UOC spin-off Open Evidence and Associate Professor at the UOC, who will act as project leader.

The data should account for whether consumers’ preferences change as attributes of the same brand are modified. Further, the data collected should allow for examinination of how consumers’ characteristics might affect their preferences (and willingness to pay) for different versions of the same brand. As well, the data of this study should make it possible to understand to what extent consumers’ preferences for different sets of attributes are affected by branded and non-branded food products.

In order to select the most appropriate products/brands in each of the six member states for conducting the experiments, there will be two activities: one focus group in each of the countries where the experiments will be run and an online survey integrated with market research data to identify the products to be tested in the experimental phase. “In addition, the results of the focus group will provide additional detailed information to fine-tune the approach for addressing the objectives of this study”, said Rosa Dalet, Managing Director at BDI Research and task leader of the project.

 

Consortium partners

The Consortium participating in this study comprises the following organizations:

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is one of the leading social science institutions in the world and a world centre for advanced research. In the 2015 Research Excellence Framework carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council, the LSE ranked as the top university in the UK for research quality both when using an average score or using the percentage of output receiving the top 4* grade. It was also the top university for policy impact in the social science disciplines, whether judged on GPA or the proportion of research impact awarded 4*.

Open Evidence (UOC) is a research and consulting firm standing at the intersection of technology and society, working on social and behavioral sciences, ICTs and data science to facilitate informed decision-making in a wide variety of areas. This spin-off of the Open University of Catalunya (UOC) delivers theory-based and empirically robust practical insights for innovative and inclusive policies and strategies stemming from social and behavioral sciences, that informs evidence-based decisions at public and private sector organizations aimed at tackling some of the world’s major challenges. Since 2009, its multi-national team of experts has successfully completed -or is currently completing- a broad range of applied socio-economic studies and research projects for various European Commission DGs and agencies, both of quantitative and qualitative nature.

Block de Ideas (BDI) is a leading market research corporation with extensive experience and expertise in delivering multi-country studies on different topics and methodologies, both for public institutions (including the European Commission and the IPTS) and private corporations (such as global manufacturers and service providers). BDI Research (Block de Ideas, S.L.) is the Spanish affiliate of the Schlesinger Group

(www.schlesingerassociates.com), a leading market research corporation with offices and viewing facilities in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain. BDI was founded in Barcelona in 1992, as a spin-off of the Olympic Games.

#UOCexperts

Cristiano Codagnone

Co-founder of the UOC spin-off Open Evidence and Associate Professor at the UOC.

Expert in:

Knowledge area: