Consumers and producers are used to goods of a higher quality having a higher price. Taste qualities, popular brand, specific characteristics and natural ingredients are the criteria increasing the value of products and thus their prices. Studies on consumer behaviour often involve a list of criteria and their importance in choice and purchase.
While choosing products with a short shelf life, among the characteristics mentioned buyers indicate freshness. It is obvious that, the shorter the shelf life is, the more attention is paid to this parameter. On the other hand, everyone knows that selling expired goods is prohibited by Russian law. After the expiry date the product’s fate is predetermined, at least in theory – it has to be disposed of. Therefore the expiration date having passed equates goods of different brands and prices to a disposal mass.
This article reflects consumer attitude toward food product freshness before the expiry date. The main conclusion of the study is that a lot of consumers see a significant difference in products far from and close to their expiry dates. That is, consumers perceive products differently even when by definition they are to be considered equally ‘fresh’.
The research was conducted by marketing agency “ScanMarket” in May 2017 in Moscow. The 569 people surveyed were consumers who buy products of at least one of the following categories at least once a month: pork, beef, chicken, milk, fermented dairy, hard cheeses. On average, respondents purchase 5 and more categories out of the 6 listed and therefore represent consumers of virtually all the products mentioned. 64% of people in the sample are women; the respondents were aged 43 years on average.
While buying dairy and meat products, almost 90% of respondents pay attention to the expiration date. One can assume that consumers are afraid of purchasing an expired product, but it is more likely that the majority simply aim to choose the freshest good on the shelf.
According to 56% of buyers, products expiration date of which is close are worse in quality. Therefore more than half of consumers distinguish between two stages of ‘freshness’ for themselves within the product shelf life. The FIFO principle (first in first out), which is easy to follow in counter stores, is maintained only partially in hypermarkets and self-service stores. Apparently this has to do with the large share of buyers who are ready to sort through the shelf in order to find the freshest package. Thousands of merchandisers and sales representatives arrange goods on shelves in an order where the freshest packages are below or behind. In response, millions of buyers look through said piles and rows in order to find and take a package with the ‘freshest’ date available.
In most hypermarkets and supermarkets, consumers’ attention is not focused on sales of products close to their expiration date. In these situations buyers make guesses on where expired goods and products close to the end of their shelf life go in the end. The lack of understanding of the real state of things, TV shows ‘exposing’ stores and, quite possibly, real shady behaviour of certain retailers result in a huge number of theories and legend on that by consumers. Of course, this affects consumer confidence in stores and serves as the reason of suspicious attitudes toward products with a short shelf life. Nevertheless, some retail chains have been using lowered price tags directly indicating the reason for the discount on products close to their expiration date.
Analysts at marketing agency “ScanMarket” did not identify an exact common term for nearly expired food products. It is reasonable to assume that such a term is necessary, as consumers tend to differentiate between these and the ‘freshest’ products, and successful interaction with consumers requires specific communication in this aspect. Without doubt, said distinction ought to be separate from products that are expired altogether, since any hint of expired goods is unacceptable. As a possible solution, ‘hot products’ has been suggested, similar to ‘hot tours’ (Russian for ‘last minute tour offers’). The term ‘hot’ is regarded as effective, as instead of a decrease in product quality, it indicates a quick purchase and quick consumption. ‘Hot tours’ is a commonly accepted, established term in the tourism industry, and therefore the term suggested for food products is expected to be easily understood.
Two thirds of buyers agree that said term is suitable for products close to the end of their shelf life.
As the study has shown, Muscovites are most likely to explain discounts with the store stimulating its visitors to buy nearly expired goods. The share of respondents who explain discounts with generosity of suppliers and retailers is significantly lower. 14% of buyers in Moscow believe that products sld with discounts like that are in fact already expired!
According to 85% of buyers surveyed, discounts from producers/stores and discounts based on the upcoming expiration date ought to be treated and presented differently. Given the survey results, it seems reasonable to at least highlight these specific ‘hot product’ discounts in a certain clear way. In addition, consumers are in favour of placing said products in a way that makes them visible and distinguishable on the shelf.
511 people among the respondents were hard cheese buyers. On average, they buy said product once a week.
Every fifth cheese buyer is ready to buy more of it provided that there is a discount on nearly expired cheeses.
The study revealed that consumer attitude toward ‘hot products’ is divided. Part of consumers believe that a clear distinction between the freshest and nearly expired goods ensures easy choice and higher levels of consumer trust to the store. Another group of consumers is counting on an opportunity to save money on ‘hot goods’ without health risks.
It is important to note that the sample lacks respondents who buy hard cheeses less often than once a month or cannot afford the product category at all. It is possible that demand for ‘hot products’ within the category is higher among individuals with a lower purchase frequency, who are more sensitive to prices.
Unfortunately, no data on volumes of the black market of expired foods could be found in open sources. We assume that ‘hot product’ sales programmes will not only decrease expenses of retailers due to expired goods, but will also undermine the black market of spoiled food products. In addition, one should not forget about the possible threats in terms of state control of product disposal. If control measures are tightened and/or fines are increased, the system of ‘hot product’ sales with discounts will lower these risks as well.
An implementation of a full-scale programme in ‘hot product’ sales is a major task. Software, accounting, product identification and ‘hot product’ arrangement, creation of flexible discounts depending on remaining amounts and time – all this requires considerable efforts. However, many consumers note that their attitude toward stores will improve in this scenario – 48.7% of respondents reported this*.
Said program in ‘hot product’ sales is possible to implement for the most technologically advanced and flexible retailers. However, the economic effects from disposal reduction or increased consumer loyalty should be felt within the network.
* Out of 569 respondents buying meat and dairy products.