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Sweetpotato consumer research: insights to increasing consumption

Gething, K., Henderson, C., McIntyre, A. and Dennien, S. (2012) Sweetpotato consumer research: insights to increasing consumption. Technical Report. Queensland Government, Brisbane, Australia. (Unpublished)



This report provides an evaluation of the behaviours and purchasing drivers of key sweetpotato consumers defined by Nielsen consumer research as Established Couples (two or more adults with no children 17 and under, and head of house 35-59), Senior Couples (two or more adults with no children 17 or under, and head of house 60 or over), and Independent Singles (one person household 35 or over, no children 17 or under). Research was qualitative in nature. Methods used included focus groups, depth interviews and shop-a-longs.

The report found that preferences for sweetpotato amongst these groups were varied. In general a smaller torpedo shaped vegetable was valued for ease of preparation and the convenience of being of sufficient size for a meal for two. Satisfaction with sweetpotato was high with negative comments on quality exceedingly rare within discussions. However, shop-a-longs revealed that some quality issues were apparent at retail such as withered product, pitting and occasionally damage. A display with stock resting in any amount of water was a barrier to purchase for consumers and this was apparent on two out 15 occasions. A high quality sweetpotato was of a deep orange/red colour, had a smooth skin and was extremely dense and hard. An inferior sweetpotato was wrinkly, spongy, pitted and damaged.

Awareness of sweetpotato was a relatively recent phenomenon amongst the respondents of this study with most recalling eating the vegetable in the last five to 10 years. Life-time eating patterns emerged as a consequence of childhood food experiences such as growing up with a ‘meat and three’ veg philosophy and traditional Australian meals. However, this was dependent on cultural background and those with ties to diverse cultures were more likely to have always known of the vegetable. Sweetpotato trial and consumption coincided with a breaking away from these traditional patterns, or was integrated into conventional meals such as a baked vegetable to accompany roasts. Increased health consciousness also led to awareness of the vegetable.

A primary catalyst for consumption within the Established and Senior Couples groups was the health benefits associated with sweetpotato. Consumers had very little knowledge of the specific health properties of the vegetable and were surprised at the number of benefits consumption provided. Sweetpotato was important for diabetics for its low Glycemic Index status. Top-of-the-mind awareness of the vegetable resulted from the onset of the disease. Increasing fibre was a key motive for this demographic and this provided a significant link between consumption and preventing bowel cancer. For those on a weight loss regime, sweetpotato was perceived as a tasty, satisfying food that was low in carbohydrates. Swapping behaviours where white potato was replaced by sweetpotato was often a response to these health concerns. Other health properties mentioned by participants through the course of the research included the precursor β-carotene and Vitamins A & C.

The sweetpotato was appreciated for its hedonic and timesaving qualities. For consumers with a high involvement in food, the vegetable was valued for its versatility in meals. These consumers took pride in cooking and the flavour and texture of sweetpotato lent itself to a variety of meals such as soups, salads, roasts, curries, tagines and so on. Participants who had little time or desire to prepare and cook meals valued sweetpotato because it was an easy way to add colour and variety to the plate and because including an orange vegetable to meals is a shortcut to ensuring vitamin intake.

Several recommendations are made to the sweetpotato industry.
• Vigorously promote the distinct nutritional and health properties of sweetpotatoes, particularly if they can be favourably compared to other vegetables or foods
• Promote the salient properties to specific targets such as diabetics, those that are at risk to bowel cancer, and those embarking on a weight-loss regime. Utilise specialist channels of communication such as diabetic magazines and websites
• Promote styles of cooking of sweetpotato that would appeal to traditionalists such as roasts and BBQs
• Promote the vegetable as a low maintenance vegetable, easy to store, easy to cook and particularly focusing on it as a simple way to boost the appearance and nutritional value of meals.
• Promote the vegetable to high food involvement consumers through exotic recipes and linking it to feelings of accomplishment with cooking
• Promote the versatility of the vegetable
• Devise promotions that link images and tone of communications with enjoying life to the fullest, having time to enjoy family and grandchildren, and of partaking in social activities
• Educate retailers on consumer perceptions of quality and ensuring moisture and mould is not present at displays

Qualitative information while providing a wealth of detail cannot be extrapolated to the overall target population and this may be considered a limitation to the research. However, within research theory, effective quantitative design is believed to stem from the insights developed from qualitative studies.

• Develop and implement a quantitative study on sweetpotato attitudes and behaviours based on the results of this study.

Item Type:Monograph (Technical Report)
Funders:Queensland Government
Projects:Enhancing sweetpotato industry market opportunities and value by understanding consumer purchasing behaviour
Business groups:Horticulture and Forestry Science
Subjects:Plant culture > Horticulture. Horticultural crops
Plant culture > Vegetables
Live Archive:08 Feb 2013 06:31
Last Modified:03 Sep 2021 16:44

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