Marne Mosterd gets acquainted with its fans
What do people actually think of mustard? Who eats it? And in what kind of meal? They seem to be obvious questions, which the manufacturer of mustard must have the answers to. But it’s not all that self-evident. Marne Mosterd in Groningen, the Netherlands’ largest mustard producer, is only just getting to know its customer base better. Thanks to Hanze University of Applied Sciences.
“You know, it always worked like this: our customer, the retailer, determined what types of mustard had to be made. And we tried to come up with the best possible recipes for this. So we had no contact with the consumer directly”, says director Paul de Vries. Bear in mind: Marne Mosterd currently produces no less than 107 different varieties.
This has changed radically in recent years. Marne themselves have gone to great lengths to reach out to the consumer, and above all: to listen to the consumer. “Mustard is quite a tricky product. For the older generation, its existence is a given. Mustard was always used for anything and everything. This is becoming less so. Young people today don’t necessarily have mustard in their cupboards.”
Proof of the Pudding
De Vries noticed that relying on his customers, the wholesalers and supermarkets, to do something about mustard’s image simply wasn’t enough. “We realised that we actually need contact with consumers to know what they want. Based on this knowledge, we can then start developing new types and flavours that appeal to the younger generation. I see it like this: we want to make something that makes the consumer happy. This makes our customer happy and ultimately us, too.”
Learned to ask the right questions
Research into what consumers want is far from Marne’s core business. Hence four years ago, the company contacted the Hanze University, where a so-called RAAK project, Proof of the Pudding, was just launched. The aim: helping SMEs in the agricultural and food sector to involve their customers in product innovation. “That was a big hit”, says De Vries. “We really learned how to ask consumers the right questions. In our case, for example: what do you use mustard for, at which times of the day, with what kind of meals. But we also discovered that sometimes you have to go off the beaten track to get the best information. You learn to work in a structure of innovation.”
Mustard with hundreds and thousands
An example? Jars full of mustard with hundreds and thousands; which students walked around with at Groningen Central Station to ask people what they thought of it. De Vries: “Nobody liked it, but that’s not what it was about. This enabled us to talk about what people want, what they miss, what they do really like about mustard. Good conversations thanks to a bizarre product. We couldn’t have come up with it ourselves. It was about reaching the consumer. Well, it’s worked.”
Which type of research fits which market demand?
The RAAK project culminated in an actual cookbook for customer research in the food sector. Marne actively participated in this. “It contains great ideas to reach consumers, to do research and to really listen to what the customer wants. You can also read about the type of research you need to carry out for which market demand. Very useful.”
This has developed in recent years. And much has changed at Marne since. The consumer has become central, not the customer. “I think we’re slowly changing course, yes. We want to make what makes the consumer happy. And that could mean that we’ll make many more different kinds of mustard other than the 107 we already have now. It has given our company a lot of energy and inspiration to pursue developments.”