UK: Exploring The Third Dimension

Last Updated: 23 March 2010
Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

Article by Deloitte LLP

The Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council Europe

The Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council Europe (CCRRCE) was formed in 1987.

The CCRRCE is dedicated to the development of a better understanding of the food retailing and allied merchandise distribution business in Europe. The focus of its energies is to identify and then to study selected critical issues and problems and, when appropriate, to publish their findings and present them in a suitable forum, so that full advantage of the information can be taken to further develop and enhance the effectiveness of the food retailing distribution business.

Previous studies published by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council Europe

1989 Staffing Supermarkets in the 90's.

1992 Grocery Distribution in the 90's.

1993 Building Customer Loyalty in Grocery Retailing.

1994 Supplier-Retailer Collaboration in Supply Chain Management.

1996 The Future for the Food Store.

1997 Knowing Your Customer.

1998 From Ingredient Shopping to Meal Solutions.

2001 The Store of the Future.

2003 A Leadership People Strategy for Food Retailers. 2005 Responding to Discount "A New Business Model for Food Retailers".

2007 The Inflection Point "Critical Pathways in Food Retailing".

Copies of these studies along with copies of this study, Informing Shoppers: "Relevant and Timely Information to Empower Shopper Choice," and all previous studies conducted by the other Coca-Cola Retailing Research Councils, world wide, may be obtained by visiting the Council website:

The Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council Europe is one of five active Coca-Cola Retailing Research Councils worldwide (Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and N. America//NACS).

The Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council concept was initiated in 1978 with the creation of the N. American Council. In subsequent years the Retailing Research Council concept was expanded to Europe, Latin America and Asia. These Councils have produced more than 30 studies and reports on issues impacting food retailing; all of these studies were directed by the retailer members of the Councils.

Additionally, in 2008 at a global meeting of the current and past Coca-Cola Retailing Councils, a study on Global Retailing Sustainability was produced ("Sustainability in Retailing: responding to a growing concern for the environment"). This sustainability study has been added to the complete body of work published by the Councils and is available for review and download on the CCRRC website:

The current Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council Europe

The CCRRCE is sponsored and facilitated by The Coca-Cola Company, and is populated with senior executives of food retailing companies. The membership of this Council is as follows:


Researching the information needs and wants of European food shoppers is timely. Advancing technologies and accelerating lifestyle demands are revolutionising how consumers buy and how products are sold.

The barriers to information about product, price, competition and people are disappearing and informed consumers are claiming a powerful role that is shifting the retail business model.

Shoppers in Europe are economically and ethnically diverse. They live in a range of markets, some developed and some developing, which vary in their levels of consumer sophistication, the state of their organised retail marketplace and their regulatory environment. The extension of European Union (EU) membership to new markets has contributed to this.

Shoppers have a growing desire to know whether products are 'safe' and 'good for them'; now more and more of them also want to know if they are 'good for the planet'.

All of this is against a backdrop of governmental and other third-party interest in regulating labelling and other forms of consumer communication to ensure the integrity of the information provided and to encourage citizens to lead healthier lives.

The grocery industry aims to be transparent in the communication of information to shoppers, partly due to a desire to inform and partly due to such regulation. There are shoppers who are actively looking for information, yet there are many who are not engaged and require very little information. The challenge, as is clear from this research, is to understand and meet the information needs of those individuals who have specific requirements while maintaining an easy and quick shopping experience for all.

About this report

The CCRRCE commissioned Deloitte to carry out a study into the information needs of European grocery shoppers. The research involved interviews with leading retailers, manufacturers and other industry stakeholders across Europe, as well as primary consumer/shopper research in six countries representing a spread of developed and developing markets, and embracing the largest markets in Europe. This report summarises the conclusions of the study and sets out recommendations to help retailers and manufacturers understand and respond to evolving shopper information needs outside the store and at the point of sale.


The overall objective of the study was to identify the information needs and wants of European food shoppers. The research also aimed to identify the best methods for communicating with shoppers regarding their information needs and desires.

The study has involved three work streams designed to generate the depth and breadth of insight required to inform strategies to empower shopper choice.

1. Primary industry research

This involved 65 qualitative interviews with senior individuals across the industry in Europe. They included retailers, manufacturers and other industry stakeholders such as regulatory bodies and technology providers to develop a thorough and balanced view of the industry opinions surrounding this subject.

2. Primary consumer and shopper research

The consumer and shopper research was carried out with the help of TNS, experts in shopper research and insight.

Qualitative research

The qualitative research involved 24 accompanied shopping trips – 'Shopper Journey Reflections' – of which 12 were in a representative developed market (United Kingdom) and 12 were in a representative developing market (Romania). Each trip lasted three hours and consisted of an in-home interview before the store visit to understand influences and information sources used by the individual before shopping. This was followed by an accompanied store visit and a subsequent interview to review and discuss the in-store observations.

Quantitative research

This phase of research involved over 6,300 individual surveys, comprising online surveys in five developed markets (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden) and face-to-face interviews in Romania as representative of developing markets in Europe. Over 1,000 respondents in each market were interviewed, to achieve a robust and statistically meaningful sample.

3. Secondary research

We carried out extensive desk research into other sources of data across Europe and the rest of the world to provide additional insight. This included reports from regulatory bodies such as the European Commission and the UK Food Standards Agency, as well as reports published by other consultancies, market research agencies, manufacturers and retailers.

Finally the study reflects the expertise and insight of the Deloitte team, as well as guidance and input from the Council members, to whom we offer our sincere thanks.

Background to the study

Study rationale

Individuals today face a barrage of potential influences and information sources competing for their attention. Giving shoppers useful information and engaging with them is therefore increasingly challenging for retailers. The media are fragmenting with a significant shift away from the consumption of mainstream, broadcast channels to 'on-demand' routes. People filter selectively the content they want from a diverse range of sources. Many of these sources are outside the control of mainstream commercial organisations, limiting the ability of retailers to inform choice.

At the same time, the amount of information provided to shoppers has increased dramatically over the past few years. This has been encouraged by growing regulation and increasing attention to issues such as nutrition and health, provenance, ethical sourcing and, more recently, environmental impact. Basic product information is supplemented by a wide array of additional data, some of it complex and not all of it understood by the shopper. It is not clear whether shoppers are getting the information they want, in the form they can best use.

The developments in information provision and in shopper information needs prompted the membership of the CCRRCE to commission a study. The aim was to understand:

  • the information needs and wants of food shoppers in Europe
  • the best methods for communicating with these shoppers regarding their information needs and desires, both away from the store and at the point-of-sale.

The research was completed at a time of dramatic economic change, which is having an impact on shopper choice. However, the study has also confirmed the existence of more permanent shifts in the way information is provided and consumed. The results give us a high level of confidence that the conclusions and recommendations of the study have not been distorted by the economic downturn, although actual product choices may be affected. The substantial and growing role of dietary and other specific needs as drivers of shopper choice confirms, for example, the importance of criteria other than price and promotion.

Today's environment

Convenience, value, range, quality, occasion, lifestyle and specific dietary needs remain central to decisions about where to shop and what to buy, though shopper choice is likely to be influenced increasingly by affordability in the near future. Similarly, the informed and emotional drivers of choice of more affluent European shoppers in areas such as nutrition and health, concern about the environment and ethical sourcing remain important. However, they are under attack with increased focus on value in the face of a slowing economy, rising unemployment, falling house prices in many markets and reduced availability of credit. There is plenty of evidence from retailer point-of-sale and TNS WorldPanel data that not only lower-income families and individuals are trading down, but also those who are better off. In addition, there is evidence of a new frugality emerging that may prove more enduring than the downturn.

The network of stakeholders looking to influence behaviour is increasingly complex, and includes policy makers, regulators, standards agencies, healthcare professionals, consumer groups, and opinion leaders such as celebrity chefs and activists campaigning for consumer issues. All of this makes it more and more difficult for retailers to communicate clear, trusted information to potential shoppers. The research reveals a growing number of shoppers do not understand all of the information they receive, and block out much of it.

The challenge for retailers will be how to remain relevant to a new generation of shoppers and consumers, with different habits and needs, in a way that captures and retains their interest, trust and loyalty. The results of the study suggest that the careful integration of messaging outside and across the store portfolio will be critical to retailers and manufacturers in competing and remaining coherent in this increasingly fragmented and complex information environment.

Other stakeholders in the shopping process

In looking to understand the influences on shoppers it is important to recognise that many individuals 'do not shop alone'. For example, peers are happy to share their opinions about stores and products, many children accompany parents to the store, and couples may shop together and influence purchasing decisions. Other household members contribute specifically to the shopping list, for example 27 per cent of European grocery shoppers discuss their weekly shopping requirements with other members of their household.

It is important to understand how other family members, who may be key stakeholders in the shopping process, use information. Buying for others affects the way shoppers engage with the product categories involved, the decisions they make and the products they choose. For the purpose of this study, the term 'shoppers' includes individuals who make the final product selection decisions, and other shopping stakeholders closely involved in the process.

Contrasts between different European markets

Although there are a number of differences between the countries included in this study, in general they are not fundamental to the way in which individuals inform their shopping choices. These differences result from a combination of different levels of maturity in the information environment in each country, as well as different shopping patterns across the week. They also reflect different levels of engagement with product categories and different marketing customs such as the greater use of physical or electronic leaflets and coupons in one country compared with another. Important to this study, they reflect learned shopper behaviour from historical in-market activity and provide insight into the ability of the industry to influence the way people shop. This is explained in more detail in the main body of the report.

Executive summary

An effective shopper information strategy is one that addresses the common core information needs of the majority of shoppers as simply and clearly as possible, while promoting engagement, informing choice and serving the variety of additional information needs of individuals based on their specific circumstances.

The conclusions of this study provide a framework to assist retailers in the development of strategies and tactics to empower choice for their shoppers to best effect. This framework reflects the issues of shopper engagement, a recognisable hierarchy of information needs, the characteristics of different categories, the specific needs of different individuals that have emerged as a key driver, the role of different communication media and the right balance between 'push and pull' communication. They also provide a strong pointer to opportunities for retailers to add a new dimension to the current price and promotion centric dialogue with shoppers by providing more relevant and informative information on issues such as diet and nutrition.

Given the importance of effective strategies to inform and influence shopper choice in an increasingly complex environment of media and messaging, we expect more and more retailers to seek innovative shopper information strategies that empower choice and more effectively serve their particular target markets and business models. Given the way the industry touches most people's lives every day, we should not underestimate the potential to inform and influence choice in the interest of all of us individually, as communities and as retailers playing a pivotal role in the economy.

It is impossible here to explore all the subtleties involved in developing such strategies. However, there are a number of key conclusions from the research and associated guiding principles to bear in mind:

The hierarchy of shopper information needs


There is a recognisable hierarchy of shopper information needs. The detailed content of each level in this hierarchy of information needs differs by category but can be described in general terms of three levels based on the way shoppers use information:

  • (level 1) product identification
  • (level 2) price and other critical information
  • (level 3a) product benefits and (level 3b) other product attributes.

There is a core need (level 1) for clear category and product identification across categories, though the visual and other clues shoppers use for this purpose vary by category, store and individual. Once the product is located, the next most important information (level 2) is price and other critical information such as pack size, promotions and sell-by/use-by date. Product attributes and benefits data (levels 3a and 3b) come next and are best considered side-by-side in terms of general shopper use across categories. Product attributes include, for example, ingredients and provenance. Product benefits include, for example, benefits 'for me' such as nutrition and health information and wider benefits for 'my world' such as the environment and community. Relevant product attributes and benefits vary as one would expect by product category. Shoppers use multiple senses in identifying and selecting products, especially in product identification but also in assessing quality and freshness. However, most shoppers, most of the time, in most product categories, have limited need for information either before or during their shopping trip.


Recognise shoppers' common, core information needs in each product category and meet these needs as simply and clearly as possible recognising the way in which shoppers use multiple senses and the hierarchy of needs relevant to that category.

Information seekers


Traditional socio-economic and demographic segmentation models are not a strong indicator of information needs and use. Instead, it is specific personal needs and lifestyle attitudes that most strongly affect the information needs and behaviour of shoppers and which present the opportunity to engage shoppers in a different way. The shoppers who have the most differentiated information needs and are most engaged in seeking information are those with specific dietary needs, those who care about their health and those who are concerned about the environment. There is significant overlap between these groups. These individuals are not a niche segment but represent a substantial and growing portion of the European population in the countries surveyed, with for example 40% of shoppers looking to meet specific dietary needs either for themselves or for someone they are shopping for. We call this group the "information seekers". The research also reveals this group as higher-than-average-spend shoppers.


Make the specific additional information needs relevant to an individual's personal lifestyle, dietary and other needs available and readily accessible without complicating product choice for others. These information seekers are generally willing to 'go to a little further' to find this additional information providing the effort of doing so is not unreasonable. Information seekers are also more willing technology adopters, the latter providing a strong pointer as to how some of these additional needs can be met.

Behaviour breakers


Today, pricing and promotions are the most looked for pieces of information and the most effective in influencing shopper choice. These are generally communicated effectively, reflecting the current centricity of price and promotion in most retailers' propositions to the shopper. In these areas the industry is generally doing a good job of informing the shopper. There is also strong evidence from the research to suggest that there is a significant element of learned shopper behaviour in this area, encouraged by retailer and manufacturer activity. However, there is also broad acceptance in the industry of the need to move the dialogue with the shopper away from being so price and promotion centric.


Use insights into what types of communication are most effective in 'behaviour breaking' to influence decisions about where to shop and what to buy. The research reveals that welltargeted promotions are, for example, today more effective than absolute price differentials in influencing decisions about where to shop and what to buy. Longer term, there is an opportunity to make better use of information relevant to individuals' specific dietary and other needs to add a third dimension to the dialogue with the shopper in addition to price and promotion (see below).

The shopping journey


Shopping is a journey during which shoppers absorb different types and amounts of information every step of their way: before they reach the store; on entering the store; when they browse the category; in selecting a product, and after they leave the store. The study highlighted the critical connection between the messaging, to which individuals are subjected before they enter the store, with the imagery and messaging they are most receptive to in-store. In the context of the shopping journey, information received outside the store can have an especially significant impact on shopper choice in-store where such alignment is achieved.


Align messaging and imagery outside the store with activation in-store to maximise shopper receptiveness to relevant and timely information. In communicating with shoppers at the various stages of the journey, recognise that the most effective tools differ materially by market and target segment. Collaborate with value chain partners to align messaging, promote engagement and drive category growth.

Enhancing the dialogue with the shopper


There is an opportunity to engage shoppers much more strongly on dietary, health and environment related issues and needs as an additional 'third dimension' beyond the expected and necessary communication of price/promotion and quality in the grocery environment. Done well, this has the potential to substantially enhance a retailer's relationship with its customers and drive choice in both where to shop and what to buy. However, today, much of the information available in these areas to inform shopper choice is inconsistent, little understood by shoppers and hence not widely used. Much information on compatibility with specific dietary needs and environmental impact is missing altogether. In these areas the industry therefore has very substantial opportunities to engage in a new dialogue with the shopper.


Understand the specific information required to meet the needs of different information seeker groups and develop approaches to meeting these needs both reactively and proactively, thereby shifting the balance in the dialogue with the shopper:

  • Reactively – by making the specific dietary and other information shoppers need available through whatever platforms and channels are convenient to the shopper at each point in the shopping journey.
  • Proactively – by using information to target communications to individuals that are directly relevant to their interests and needs and thereby maximise effectiveness in influencing where to shop and what to buy. In many cases, it will be appropriate to capture shopper needs profile and purchase history information as a platform to do this outside the store, in-store and where relevant across different store formats and across channels. As shoppers become more used to and dependent on information about, for example, the dietary and allergen characteristics of products, the reliability of that information will become paramount. Recognise the complexity of this issue given the number of suppliers potentially involved and their varying levels of sophistication. Collaborate with value chain partners to ensure the integrity of product information used to inform shoppers. Actively sponsor and support the development of the labelling and underlying data standards that will make this possible on a consistent basis across the industry (see below).

Existing labelling schemes


There is still a lot to do to increase consumers' and shoppers' understanding of some of the labelling that is already in place and both retailers and manufacturers have a role to play. Much of the information that is available today to empower shopper choice in areas such as nutrition and environmental impact is not used because it is not understood. Expected EU legislation designed to bring greater consistency of nutritional labelling is likely to impact some aspects of current labelling.


Give greater prominence to explaining the existing labelling of products sold in the store, both in the store and outside the store, for example in schools. This should include whatever the principal types of nutritional information provided such as 'traffic lights' and 'RDAs'. It should also include the real meaning of accreditation by bodies such as, for example, Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance, the Marine Stewardship Council, the Carbon Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in the United Kingdom or the equivalent Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA) in France.

Longer term – development of the industry standards required


A key conclusion of the research is that there is an opportunity to better engage shoppers and consumers on a 3rd dimension of need after price and quality – that related to specific individual needs in areas such as diet, nutrition and a broader range of personal lifestyle and environmental issues consistent with each retailer's individual business strategies. Individuals seeking information related to these needs represent almost half of all customers and this population is growing. This represents a major opportunity for retailers to better serve these customers. The research also suggests that new technology platforms have a major role to play in making available the information that shoppers want – when, where and how they want it.

There are, however, significant barriers to be addressed if retailers are to be able to better engage shoppers on these needs. The industry lacks consistent ways of measuring, capturing and communicating various aspects of nutrition, dietary, health and environmental impact related information within and across markets. If retailers are to have the option to engage more on these issues, then the underlying data and labelling standards need to be established. The right governance and processes to ensure the integrity of the information involved also need to be established. This requires industry-wide collaboration around the required standards, processes and governance.

Alternative scenarios are unattractive. If leading industry players act independently to meet these shoppers' needs then this will add cost and contribute to customer confusion. It will also heighten the likelihood of additional regulatory complexity that might make it harder in the long term to make progress in the interests of shoppers, families and other industry stakeholders.


Much has already been achieved across the industry in areas such as product identification, weights and measures, ingredients labelling and the identification of allergen risks. Core standards for electronic commerce are also now well established. However, there are still areas where there is much to do. Examples include the consistent presentation of nutritional labelling, approaches to informing individuals about product compatibility with their particular dietary needs and the foundations for any future meaningful and consistent environmental impact labelling.

If such labelling is to become widespread, consistent and comparable in a meaningful way across a broad range of categories and products then industry-wide standards for both labelling and the required underlying data will need to be developed in a number of areas where, today, they do not exist. A clear manifesto for such standards around which the industry can align is required. To succeed, it needs sponsorship by leading retailers, manufacturers and standards bodies, coordinated through appropriate industry associations.

In summary

Retailers and branded manufacturers face complex challenges in informing and influencing shopper choice. Individuals are increasingly subjected to a barrage of messages from a range of influencers through a variety of media. We increasingly choose to take control of the content we consume and how we consume it. Broadcast media are becoming less relevant, making it difficult to get the intended messages to the appropriate individuals through traditional channels. Consumer and shopper communication is increasingly leveraging new media and more centered on the point of purchase in store. Retailers and other brand owners need to get ahead of the game in communicating with their customers or risk having others shape opinions about their businesses and products.

Most shoppers, most of the time need and want very little information. However a substantial and growing minority of shoppers have specific information needs that are often not well met. Shoppers with the most differentiated information needs and who are the most engaged in seeking information are those with specific dietary needs, those who care about their health and those who are concerned about the environment they live in – for them and their dependents. These "information seeking" groups represent a substantial and growing portion of the population in the countries surveyed and they are also above average spend shoppers.

At the same time, retailers, suppliers and the wider industry currently lack consistent ways of measuring, capturing and communicating nutrition, dietary, health and environmental impact related information in consistent ways that are meaningful to the majority of shoppers that seek this information. Therein lies a major challenge, and a substantial opportunity. Most of today's marketing communications are focused on the two primary dimensions of product and price. The key question for many retailers and manufacturers is: what is the relevant 'third dimension' of the dialogue with the shopper and consumer for your business that moves this to a different level?

The following pages of this report examine these issues in depth, with the goal of helping grocery retailers and their suppliers understand how they can help shoppers make informed choices about where to shop and what to buy.

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