blogs, we described the accomplishments and challenges associated with the
implementation of Phase-I of the Sustainable Flour Fortification Initiative (branded
as “SFurtI”). This led to a very important research question: why do some
people choose to buy (and repeat buy) Sfurti while others opt out?
To get a detailed understanding of what drives purchasing
behavior, we took a simple random sample of 30 households, from each of the 15
target villages, and completed a consumer survey, collecting information on
demographics, livelihood and attribute preferences (e.g., taste, price, selling
mode, etc.). In sum, we surveyed 450 households over the months of June and July
Primarily, the objective was to understand the inter-linkage
of purchasing behavior with the following factors :
- Demographics (age, education, caste, gender)
- Marketing influence – perception about the
benefits of Sfurti
- Peer effect – relationship with the Sfurti Bens
(e.g. female Sfurti promoter)
While the quantitative data analysis is still underway, this
blog focuses on some of the qualitative insights drawn from the interviews. It
also briefly discusses the minor hiccups in conducting the survey.
Idiosyncrasies of the Survey
Foremost, to draw a random sample, a population list is
needed. While one would usually go by the census or ration card beneficiaries lists
in India , it turned out that due to either immigration issues or unorganized
record keeping, the ration card holders were far fewer than the actual
population of the villages and the census lists were too old to be considered
(2010). As a result, we used village level household records instead
(maintained by the local gram panchayat – the administrative unit at the
village). As one might imagine, these lists are neither centralized nor
digitized. However, with cooperation and support from the block level officers,
we were able to obtain the household lists and then drew random samples from
The survey had to be completed before the starting of Phase –
II in order to get a fair assessment of Phase – I. However, June is right
before the onset of monsoon in this western part of India (e.g. Songadh, Tapi district, Gujarat).
With Songadh being mostly a rice-cultivating belt, this meant a lot of
agricultural activity during the timing of our survey, which further implies it
was almost impossible to find any adult respondents within the household
between 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. (the working time in these villages). This forced us
to conduct surveys in two shifts a day – one, starting at 5 A.M. until
respondents were no longer to be found, and the other, at around 4 P.M. when
they would start returning from the fields. Even though exhausting, it was a
unique experience to have. The early morning shift had us sipping chai (tea)
with the respondents, while the evening shift sometimes forced us into memorable
yet uncomfortable encounters with the occasional drunk miscreants roaming about
Overall, however, the survey worked out fantastically. We
were not only able to get our crucial 450 responses, but we also got a good
sense of people’s perception about Sfurti.
A big behavioral factor in most parts of rural (and even
urban, for that matter) India is caste. Even though the target villages have
primarily tribal populations (about 97%), the sub-castes within the tribal
communities play an important role, as the caste determines the primary
occupation of the household. For instance, Gamits and Chaudhary –
which are influential in this region – are marginal farmers or
agricultural/casual laborers, whereas Kotwadias – another dominant caste
– are involved in making and selling bamboo baskets. Most of the others (Kathuria,
Bhil) are landless and usually don’t have a stable profession. This
societal segregation has a bearing on not just income but also perceptions
towards health, education (owing to their economic and social status), the
social network of these households and lifestyle in general. Thus, caste can be
a driving factor of behavior.
Also worth pointing out, the not-so-well-off communities
often tend to take decisions at a community level rather than at an individual
level. Given certain communities are deprived of basic necessities, it is often
harder for them to diverge attention from their day-to-day sustenance towards investment
(both money and time) in a program aimed to improve micronutrient deficiency.
A Bhil household, living on the margins (Photo credit: Prankur Gupta)
- Age of household members
Leaving aside the potential to understand the importance of
Sfurti for a moment and focusing primarily from a social marketing perspective,
an interesting factor that came about was that of age of the members within the
household. Since Sfurti relies on door-to-door sales, finding an adult within
the household during the visit becomes very important, and age here, plays a significant
role. Older members usually do not work outside the house (there are enough
things to do within the house, which they fancy doing) and are also happy to
talk to visitors. Similarly, mothers with children under 5 years old are at home.
Since they have small children in the house, they are likely to have interacted
with doctors, ASHA workers, Anganvadi workers, etc. who reiterate
the importance of micronutrients and therefore, become more likely to buy and
Elder members of the household, working in the house during the day (Photo credit: Prankur Gupta)
- Higher education and income
One would normally expect well-off households with educated
members to be less passive about their health. However, we observed that often
households with high income and education were not at all interested in buying Sfurti.
Because of a perception that they did not face any medical problems, and hence
wouldn’t need any supplements or ‘medicines’, the upper income households
had more of a dismissive attitude towards Sfurti. A bigger underlying problem with
these households may have been unapproachability. Given the high social stature that such
households command, to be approached by a Sfurti
Ben – e.g. the woman who does the
door-to-door education and sales of Sfurti, e.g. someone seemingly not of the
same stature – and what’s more with a recommendation to improve their health,
is a relatively difficult task.
A woman preparing her farm for sowing rice paddy (Photo credit: Prankur Gupta)
Despite some of the challenges identified above, the overall
adoption rates are high, largely owing to the marketing efforts made in the
field. The understanding of the target consumers at this time has at least
reached a stage where most of them feel that Sfurti is something that helps
them in some way. The exact understanding of what it does and how it does it is
yet to be realized, but at least they seem to be on the right path.
As an example, a
question in the survey asked consumers whether they find Sfurti rotis to
be tastier, softer, different, or better in any way. The most commonly recorded
response was they found the taste better. Given Sfurti is a tasteless, odorless
powder and that it cannot alter the rotis in any fashion, this may seem like an
exaggeration or a placebo effect on part of the consumer.
However, there is a small catch. Iron intake does increase appetite.
Therefore, it won’t be a stretch to assume that since they wanted to eat more (i.e.
an increase in appetite), they ‘felt’ the rotis tasted better. After
all, haven’t we all loved that sub-standard burger when we are dying of hunger?
The non-consumers and dropouts
From the households surveyed, it seemed that the households
that were not buying were usually living in far-off locations or right in the
center of their fields, which isolated them from the more populated areas of
the village. This makes inclusion in the program more difficult as the Sfurti
Bens cannot be expected to travel frequently to such households. Of course,
there may have been others who, despite having the information on Sfurti’s
positive effects, chose not to buy. They had their own reasons, most of which
were covered in the previous sections.
There may be similar explanations for program dropouts (e.g.
those who chose to buy Sfurti previously, but did not repeat the purchase). However,
sometimes it was observed that Sfurti Bens may not visit frequently enough to
replenish the supplies and therefore, eventually people would just stop
consuming because it wasn’t regularly available.
To keep both the consumers and the sellers (Sfurti Bens)
motivated in the program is challenging and a social marketing model such as
this may experience faltering once in a while. However, for the most part, it
didn’t seem to be a major problem.
An isolated target household, surrounded by agriculture fields (Photo credit: Prankur Gupta)
Phase 2 of the project (to run from September 2017 through
June 2018) does involve an experimentation with the model by engaging the local
millers in sales. In a few villages, the millers would be responsible to add Sfurti
sachets to the grain while milling if the consumers wishes it. This not only
rules out the problem of infrequent visits (as consumers would now buy
themselves), but also ensures that the product is not only purchased, but
actually consumed. (See
this blog for more information on purchasing but not consuming behaviors.)
As a result, we will hopefully have a better understanding
of both the purchasing behavior in the target villages and the overall
mechanisms of a social marketing model for products in the informal economy – a
segment the majority of the deprived population in the country relies on. And
if we learn how to do better marketing within the informal economy, then we
could potentially have big opportunities to reach these marginalized communities
with innovative and important health and nutrition products like Sfurti.
Gupta is a Master’s of Science student in Applied Economics and Management at
Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson
School of Applied Economics in Management. His research with the Tata-Cornell Institute
(TCI) focuses on consumer behaviors in rural Gujarat.