Last year, Natalie Dueck, the owner of Rawnata, was named the innovator of the year by the MCM Food Panel judges and was able to benefit from one of the five surveys the University of Manitoba-run organization does every year.
The results of survey questions produced specifically for Rawnata showed, among other things, that consumers place a lot of value on individually wrapped snack bars, and that they were most likely to buy them for a road trip, adult lunches and for fuelling outdoor activities.
It’s a small portion of the data the MCM Food Panel has been collecting for the past five years. Funded by the federal and provincial governments through the Growing Forward 2 program, the small team of academic researchers and staff at the U of M’s Department of Community Health Sciences in the College of Medicine have recruited a group of 2,500 Manitoba panelists who respond to surveys five times per year.
Dueck said the survey results on the healthy snack-bar business was very helpful for the six-year-old, family-run business.
“We found it very valuable,” she said. “Among other things, it really confirmed some of what we are learning about the market and the demographics of the consumers.”
The survey determined that consumers were particularly predisposed to eat snack bars on road trips and the demand likely skewed to adult consumers.
Dueck said the packaging issue is one Rawnata has been grappling with for a few years, trying to weigh the marketing benefits against the expense associated with certain kinds of packaging.
“If you’ve been in stores that carry healthy snack bars, you’ll see there are a lot out there,” she said. “It’s hard to get noticed.”
Adriana Findlay, industry liaison co-ordinator for the MCM, said the goal of the work they do is “to be the voice of the consumer in the area of health and food.”
Since 2013, it has been asking its 2,500 panelists — from whom it receives about a 50 per cent response rate — questions about things such as attitudes towards GMO products, purchasing habits for organic food, purchasing food from farmers’ markets and accessing food in urban or rural settings.
“We aim to be a piece in the puzzle when it comes to policy changes or improvements on the consumer end, where they might not have a direct voice,” she said.
Jocelyne Gaudet, project co-ordinator for the MCM, said that now that there is five years’ worth of data, the MCM will be able to start doing longer-term analysis regarding how opinions may be trending. Starting next year, she said, more comprehensive reports will be produced.
In addition to aiding public policy, the MCM has teamed up with Beef Producers of Manitoba and pulse grower organizations — and it has the ability to partner with other private sector groups — to target more specific food consumption issues.
Read more by Martin Cash.