Heinz turns to virtual shopping platform to test consumer reactions

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 4th September 2008

Heinz Ketchup, one of the world’s most iconic brands, has been a prominent fixture on supermarket and convenience store shelving for over a century. The company has consistently updated the packaging of the product since its 1876 launch to appeal to a wider range of consumers but have recently undertaken a process to produce a more optimal assortment of package types and sizes.

“We have so many package sizes and types,” explained Barbarita Marbelt, the company’s market research manager for all the ketchup, condiments and sauce businesses. “Our consumer insights told us we had to make the options simpler. The benefits involved pushed us over the edge to look for solutions.”

Fewer package types would reduce costs for Heinz, but a reduction had to be carried out with the interests of both retailers and consumers in mind. To do this Heinz utilised a virtual shopping platform called SimuShop, which could gauge consumer reaction in the context of a shopping experience.

The program, which is owned by Decision Insight, requires a group of suitable consumers being selected, with a video taking the “virtual shoppers” through shopping aisles. Consumers can click on a product to discover price, size, type and to make a virtual purchase – with consumers free to purchase or not purchase any product they desire.

“Virtual shopping is very powerful,” Ms Marbelt claimed at the recent IIR Shopper Insights Conference in Chicago. “You are observing shopper behaviour rather than asking what they would do. That makes this methodology reliable as well as faster and more economical than in-market testing.”

The company had three primary package formats on sale in American supermarkets – the ‘fridge door fit’, the ‘top down’ and the traditional bottle.

There was a thought that the larger fridge door fit format could be very beneficial to growth as research suggested people who bought larger bottles would use ketchup on more occasions. The research discovered, however, that removing the upside-down bottle could have a significant and negative impact on sales, with smaller size bottles also needing to stay in the range to ensure consumers would not switch brands.

Heinz has since decided to reduce package formats to two with the top down and traditional bottles staying on. The decision has resulted in a reduction in costs for the company, while the in-depth research process helped ensure the decision would not have a negative impact on consumers.