Tomatoes: why the trade should consider more than just price
UK shoppers use tomatoes 2.5 times a week or on 3.4 billion occasions a year

Tomatoes: why the trade should consider more than just price

Gill McShane
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Tomato sales total £698 million in the UK or 250,000 tonnes in volume terms. Brits buy them regularly and eat the fruit at lunch and dinner. So how can already highly-engaged UK shoppers be encouraged to purchase a little more of this popular salad item? Kantar Worldpanel UK shares some insight

“It’s a big category and it’s worth a lot,” explains Chris Cowan, consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel UK. “You can do so much with a category like tomatoes to drive extra sales.”

According to Kantar Worldpanel data compiled from 30,000 UK households, Brits buy tomatoes 24 times a year, which indicates they’re highly engaged with the category. People are also buying them on a regular basis, with as much as 93% of the population buying tomatoes every single year.

So, if there are lots of people buying tomatoes and they’re already engaged, how can we drive shoppers to buy more tomatoes?

Cowan claims it’s all about frequency. “It’s about trying to encourage shoppers to make one extra trip, and getting tomatoes into more meals,” he states.

Driving sales is not all about price therefore, argues Cowan. “Summer is when Brits engage the most with tomatoes because we eat more salads. The retailers also promote tomatoes in summer but this is when demand is already greater.

“There is a lot of value to be had in scaling back tomato promotions during high demand periods as we do not see a correlation between lowering prices and volume going up.”

In the short term, Cowan says the trade needs to target the infrequent shopper, and over the longer term, the market should look to drive more occasions, which he believes could result in “massive” rewards.

Who is buying tomatoes in the UK?

Kantar Worldpanel data indicates there are two different shopper groups of note – the most frequent shoppers (typically older, more affluent generation), and those that buy less often (the younger, mass market).

Unsurprisingly, the older generation are eating tomatoes the most frequently, especially the over-65 female group to whom tomatoes are very important.

Meanwhile, the over-65 male group is the second-largest consumer group but their eating occasions are in decline. Tomato eating occasions among the over-55s are falling too.

In comparison, some pockets of younger consumers are eating tomatoes less frequently. Children, meanwhile, are struggling to get their fair share. 

Cowan says the trade needs to consider tapping into both the older generation given their affinity with the tomato category already and the potential to raise male consumption, and the younger/mass market where there is clearly room to grow.

“If these groups bought tomatoes on just one more occasion a year, it would add a lot of value to the market – £2.9m to the older, affluent market, and £4.1m to the younger/mass market,” he predicts. 

So, what’s the older shopper’s repertoire? They are buying mainly on-the-vine and cherry tomatoes, whereas ordinary tomatoes are less important for them. They are shopping very infrequently at Asda, Aldi and the Co-operative; opting instead for Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco stores.

Meanwhile, the younger, mass market are buying more ordinary tomatoes, but also a similar share of vine and cherry tomatoes. They are shopping more often at Asda, the Co-op and Lidl.

How and why are people using tomatoes?

Across a population of 61.6 million, tomatoes are used on 3.4 billion occasions a year, and 2.5 times a week, with a weekly penetration of 42.1%.

One of the challenges, however, is to get over the traditional dish association with tomatoes, according to Cowan. Currently, 34% of tomatoes sold in the UK are eaten at lunch, while 46% are consumed at dinner time.

The motivations for consumption are varied. One motivation is to get a portion of fruit and veg each day, and another is because tomatoes complement a meal, Cowan says. Drivers also depend on the type of tomato in question.

Tomato category winners and losers

Variety-wise, on-the-vine tomatoes is the largest line within the tomato category, accounting for 24.9% of the spend, and 23.7% of volume, according to Kantar Worldpanel UK.

And even though vine sales volume is much lower than ordinary tomatoes, vine is worth more than ordinary toms, which in comparison account for 24.5% of spend and 37.9% of volume.

Cherry is the next most popular tomato variety, followed by plum baby tomatoes, on-the-vine cherry tomatoes, and others.

“Lots of shoppers aren’t buying ordinary tomatoes and we need to tackle that,” points out Cowan. “If the reason is because ordinary tomatoes are not delivering on taste, that provides an opportunity. Brand managers could throw ideas at it. That’s the challenge. Is there an opportunity for the UK to deliver on taste, quality over imported ordinary tomatoes, and sell that at a premium?”

Cowan says the ordinary tomato category is struggling the most because neither is it seen as exciting nor as one of consumers’ 5-a-day portions.

“Vine and baby plum are ticking two boxes – they’re healthy and premium,” he notes. “Cherry and beef are eaten more for health reasons. The mixed or specialist tomatoes are bought to complement meals, while plum tomatoes sit in the middle of the two.

How can the trade drive sales?

The approach to raising purchases is three-fold, suggests Cowan.

  • First, the trade needs to understand why shoppers buy more of certain tomatoes, and why shoppers aren’t buying ordinary tomatoes.

  • Second, the trade need to find out why shoppers buy British to gauge if that is enough of an appeal to drive tomato sales. If so, Cowan says you can shout about why British tomatoes are great, and why they taste better.

  • And, third, the trade should work out the appropriate channels to communicate their chosen message, whether it’s print media or social media etc.

In terms of messaging and merchandising strategy, Cowan says to market tomatoes for their health properties is “quite tricky”. “The British consumer does not like being shouted at about health,” he claims. “Fruit and veg intake rose by about two grapes after five years of shouting about 5-a-day.”

Cross-promotions, meanwhile, are a good idea, he suggests. “Promoting tomatoes with olive oil would be beautiful,” he comments. “It could work brilliantly well with produce. But it’s a political challenge in terms of getting the different category buyers at the retailers to work together.”

In summary, Cowan advises the trade to target the infrequent shoppers and stimulate more occasions in which Brits can eat tomatoes.

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