Shoppers walking through the meat aisles of their local super-markets in September may have been bemused to find themselves being asked why they bought what they did from the bacon fixture. They were being quizzed as part of a major instore research project into consumer purchasing habits conducted for the MLC which is still in the process of evaluating results. As far as bacon goes, the research will not throw up too many surprises, says the MLC's marketing director Richard Lowe. "The top line figure is that 69% of all bacon purchases are preplanned. Therefore, the purchase is highly habitual and for many shoppers there is low involvement at the fixture," he says. Lowe also points out that 92% of households buy bacon on a regular basis and adds: "Some product categories would kill for that kind of penetration." The instore work coincided with qualitative research conducted in the spring by the MLC using focus groups. That, too, has reinforced old insights', says Lowe, notably the strong allegiance of consumers to bacon. But he adds: "There is evidence of disappointment with the use of unexpectedly thin rashers, especially when bought for special occasions. Some heavy users are using bacon for a much wider variety of meal occasions than breakfast." Both sets of data also emphasise the fact that consumers are confused by the bacon fixture. "There is a challenge to make the instore display more educational, explaining bacon as a series of styles and cures, and maybe not relying on the single mental image of the rasher as its only form of expression," says Lowe. This challenge has long been recognised by the bacon industry's marketers. Lowe's counterparts at the Danish and Dutch marketing organisations are just as keen to work with retailers to tackle these issues. "There are no easy solutions to this beyond the conventional route of testing various initiatives and then rolling them out," Lowe admits. But he also thinks the new MLC research will enable his account managers to provide retailers with valuable up to date insights that will allow buyers and suppliers to get more out of the £1bn bacon market. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}