New Zealand's reputation for premium food and beverage has grown in key markets. However, the food and beverage export sector still needs to build awareness to counter 'buy local' trends and competition from other sources of high-end food products, according to NZTE research.
Wine, red meat and dairy led the charge as recognised premium products from New Zealand, according to research conducted by Kantar in April 2023 across Australia, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Wine topped the recognition rankings at 54 percent for consumers surveyed, particularly for consumers in China, Australia, and the UK.
The findings are drawn from the fourth wave of research to support NZTE's ongoing Made with Care campaign, which aims to drive awareness and preference for New Zealand as a source of premium food and beverage products.
Overall awareness of New Zealand premium offerings has risen, with 48 percent of survey respondents saying they associated New Zealand as a producer of premium food and beverage products, a lift from 41 percent in October last year.
However, other premium food and beverage sources, such as France and Italy, were also increasingly recognised in the same export markets. This indicates that New Zealand must maintain its profile through ongoing awareness-building to remain competitive.
The awareness gap remains wider in some markets than others. While Chinese and Australian consumers showed high awareness of New Zealand as a premium producer, awareness was lower in Japan and the United States and only moderate in the United Kingdom.
The research noted that awareness remains critical to help New Zealand build brand equity with global food and beverage consumers with varying knowledge about New Zealand and what the country offers. This includes ensuring consumers understand what makes New Zealand products high-quality to build preference and encourage purchases.
"It's pleasing to see awareness of New Zealand as a premium food and beverage source rising in key markets, especially among the most likely buyers of high-end products," said Fiona Acheson, Head of Food, Beverage and Consumer Products at NZTE.
The research shows we still need to work to keep awareness strong, but we're in a much stronger position than three years ago,
"The research shows we still need to work to keep awareness strong, but we're in a much stronger position than three years ago, and the wider research insights will help exporters to make the most of the campaign's success and turn it into ongoing preference and sales."
Kantar's research asked consumers which food and beverage exporting countries they associated with various attributes connected to premium products. Responses were then ranked to produce "leaderboards" of perceptions in each market, showing how New Zealand was seen compared to other premium food and beverage sources.
Across all markets surveyed, perceptions of taste and premium quality were the most important attributes for building consumer preference for particular food and beverage exporting countries. Products made with care and from a place they trust were also important considerations.
Although New Zealand was widely recognised for producing high-quality beef, lamb, and dairy products and for its commitment to sustainability and ethically produced food, New Zealand products fell behind competitor nations on great tasting and premium quality perceptions which are critical for turning awareness into preference.
Australian consumers strongly preferred local products, leaving New Zealand to compete with France and Italy over perceptions of taste and quality. However, New Zealand ranked second on most 'premium' attributes and was strongly associated with premium dairy, beef, lamb, and wine.
Japanese consumers rated New Zealand highly for great-tasting meat and high-quality dairy. Despite this, they strongly preferred local products, with New Zealand tending to lag in perceptions of taste and quality.
Many consumers thought highly of locally produced products, including those in Australia, Japan and the United States. To sidestep rather than fight this strong local preference, New Zealand food and beverage exporters were encouraged to focus on what makes their premium products unique and different from local options rather than "better" outright.
In contrast, to "buy local" preferences in other markets, Chinese consumers ranked New Zealand ahead of other food and beverage producers on all high-impact premium attributes, including quality, food safety and nutrition – extending New Zealand's lead from the last wave of research six months earlier.
Consumers in the UK ranked New Zealand very highly as a trusted source of premium food products, with high rankings for wine, beef and lamb. However, there was a need to drive trust, taste and nutrition perceptions of New Zealand products in the UK, all areas where European sources pulled ahead.
Like their UK counterparts, US consumers also ranked European countries as their most trusted sources for premium food and beverage, with New Zealand needing to work more for cut-through beyond beef and lamb.
The research also focused on marketing and purchase channels for premium food and beverage consumers and gathered insights from the market on how consumers discovered and purchased products – including social and traditional media, word of mouth, and encountering products through restaurants or retail presence.
Two thousand five hundred consumers were surveyed across five markets, focusing on grocery shoppers. They self-identified 'foodies' with high household incomes, defined as at or above the median household income for each market.
Launched in October 2020, Made with Care is intended to grow awareness, preference, and purchases of New Zealand food and beverage products, with research indicating that the campaign's messaging around great taste, premium quality, and ethical production continues to resonate with consumers.
Overall, 37 percent of consumers surveyed in the latest research recognised Made with Care branding, with regional variations including strong upticks in Japan and China. Those familiar with the campaign were also more likely to buy New Zealand food and beverage products.
Across the five markets surveyed, comparisons to research in October 2022 showed an eight percent increase in consumers who had seen the campaign, a 19 percent increase in consumers who would consider New Zealand food and beverage products and a 25 percent increase in consumers who specifically preferred New Zealand food and beverages.