Local independents more innovative than multinationals: Leatherhead

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Local independent food and drink businesses are better at innovation than large-scale firms, according to a LFR survey. Photo courtesy of Celyn Farmers’ Market
Local independent food and drink businesses are better at innovation than large-scale firms, according to a LFR survey. Photo courtesy of Celyn Farmers’ Market

Related tags United kingdom Local food

Britain’s consumers think their local independent food and drink businesses are more innovative than all the leading national companies and branded multinational manufacturers, according to new research from Leatherhead Food Research (LFR).

But perhaps worse, the Russians don’t rate the UK anywhere as far as food and drink innovation goes! And that could pose serious problems for UK exporters, which increasingly see Russia as one the most important new markets in the developing world.

The research, revealed at LFR’s Food Innovation Day last Thursday (September 19), covered an online poll of 1,092 people in the UK carried out between September 11 and 12 and a similar online study of 1,011 Russian consumers carried out between September 13 and 16.

Presenting the results, LFR principal analyst Nicole Patterson-Lett said the findings from the UK study probably reflected a greater awareness among UK consumers about what their local food firms were doing compared to the activities of big multinational companies.

‘Local independents’

“Local independent companies are increasing in popularity, providing special food and drink for the weekend and perhaps promoting local produce. And they are seen as more easily traceable. That’s not necessarily the case, but it’s just in the eyes of the consumer,”​ said Patterson-Lett.

While the big multinationals such as Unilever, Nestlé, Mars, Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Mondelēz were all rated fairly equally as far as innovation was concerned, the levels all fell below those of local companies in the minds of consumers, said Patterson-Lett. Also, females were found to rate multinational innovativeness “a lot higher”​ than males, as did younger people.

“To be honest, between all the​ [multinational] companies, there is very little difference in perceived innovativeness from the consumer,” ​she added. “What’s clear, though, is the other local independent companies are the ones that are perceived to be the most innovative.”

As part of the UK survey, consumers rated the UK (16%) as being more innovative in food and drink than all other countries, with the US rated next (13%). It should be noted, however, that the largest proportion of respondents (25%) confessed to not knowing.

Russian consumers

The survey of Russian consumers also placed their own country highest as far as food innovation was concerned.

Although there wasn’t the same difference in perception between local independent and national companies in Russia as in the UK, a worrying finding was that when asked which other countries rated highly for innovation, the UK was nowhere to be seen among the leaders, getting just 1% of respondents’ rating.

The Russians put the US (14%) as most innovative in food and drink after Russia (20%), followed by Japan (12%) and France (12%), Italy (11%), Germany (8%) and China (6%). Younger Russians were more likely to score Russia as more innovative than older people.

In the UK survey, the categories believed to be most innovative were confectionery (26%), followed by beverages (20%), bakery (19%) and breakfast cereals (19%). After these came snacks (18%) and fish, meat and egg products (18%), dairy (16%), desserts and ice cream (15%), soups (12%). The proportion saying they did not know was again high (19%).

The above ranking changed markedly when analysed by UK region, possibly reflecting the availability of new products in different regions, said Patterson-Lett.

In contrast the Russians believed the dairy sector was the most innovative (37%), followed by bakery (34%) and then confectionery (29%).

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