Hearing the consumer: Kevin Deegan and his team know what Finns expect from food in the future – and they bring insight to the data

What drives a consumer’s purchase decision at the food shelf? How to anticipate changes in consumer behaviour and how to be successful in the markets? Dr. Kevin Deegan heads Valio’s Consumer Insights team. His work includes bringing the consumer’s voice to everything Valio does.

Many trends impact our food choices. Food not only brings enjoyment and nutrition, it’s also part of our identity, an ethical or climate-based choice, a quick and easy everyday solution, an act to promote health, or a choice that serves the desire and allure to try something new.

“Global megatrends affect the daily food choices of consumers. Based on our own trend report, we have defined six megatrends that impact our operations: health & wellbeing, convenience 2.0, sustainable & ethical living, experiences over everything, food & self expression and regaining trust. In today’s food industry, there is a lot of investment in collecting and analysing data, but how can understandable information be extracted from it to support decision making? The members of the Executive Board don’t need to know all the details, but they do have to be able to make the right decisions for the future. In the Consumer Insight team, we turn the data into understandable information that Valio can use, e.g. to introduce new products to the markets,” Kevin Deegan describes.

Consumer insight researchers excel at storytelling

Kevin says that data are words and insights are stories. The world is full of words and numbers, but they don’t gain meaning until we understand them in the form of a story.

“It is our job to take the scattered words and numbers and write a story that helps bring understanding to what is happening around us and what consumers want and need. It guides us to make the right decisions.”

As an example, Kevin shares the background behind the creation of the oat-based Valio Oddlygood® product family. The product launch was preceded by a detailed study of market for plant-based products, multiple consumer surveys and interviews, and meticulous analyses.

“Through the research we discovered that 93 percent of consumers of plant-based beverages and snacks regularly use the products alongside milk-based products. This insight encouraged us to launch our own oat-based product family in 2018,” Kevin says.

One question we just had to ask the researcher of future foods: what kind of food we will we be eating 10 years from now?

“Consumers are increasingly more demanding because there are more choices available than ever before, and that’s a good thing. I believe that individualised food choices, food designed just for me, are growing. That is why we work in tight collaboration with consumers, because the only way to succeed is by listening to them and engaging them. And while technology advances and consumer trends change, taste remains the most important purchase criteria. That’s something we will not compromise on – not now or in the future,” Kevin concludes.

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