Market Research - Finger Lickin' Good

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Learning Outcomes

Students should gain familiarity with the following elements of business information literacy and specific information resources.

Information Literacy:

  • The distinction and relative advantages between primary and secondary market research.
  • The kinds of market information that are freely available on the Internet.
  • Availability, currency, coverage, and cost of pre-packaged market research reports.
  • How to apply indirectly relevant reports.
  • The distinctions and relative advantages of scholarly, popular, and professional content types.


  • A source for industry reports.
  • A source for pre-packaged market research reports.
  • A source for consumer survey data.
  • A source for demographic data.
  • An article database including trade and industry publications.


Your company has developed a food bar that capitalizes on recent discoveries about "brain foods" like Omega-3 fatty acids. Made with flax seed and pulped sardines, with ginseng and caffeine for an added energy boost, this food bar can serve as a nutritional snack or a total meal replacement.

Your job is to research the market for cereal bars, energy bars, and breakfast bars to better understand how to position your food bar, and identify and reach a target demographic.

Preliminary Discussion

Students can be better engaged if the librarian introduces the premise using recent news stories or images, or by playing off the fishy ingredients of the food bar. The librarian should lead a discussion in which students enumerate the kinds of information they believe would be useful in addressing the case. This provides an opportunity to discuss the distinction between primary and secondary research, and the kinds of information the library can provide and that are freely available on the Internet.

First Resource

To position this product students will need to understand consumer attitudes toward food bars. Primary research might be the best way to obtain rich data directly relevant to this product, but conducting such surveys and focus groups is expensive. Secondary sources, like those the library provides, can serve as an alternative or supplement. In particular, an increasing number of publishers of market research reports are making their products available to libraries. A prepackaged report from a source like Mintel or Academic can provide deep insight into a market.

The librarian should select and demonstrate one source for market research. During this demonstration the librarian can impart elements of information literacy that are specific to this context, including: the need to consider the currency or timeliness of information in any particular market research report, the differences in topics covered by different publishers, differences in methodologies, the high cost of such reports, and how students can save money if purchasing such reports in the future by negotiating purchases on a page-by-page basis or purchasing older editions. Strategies should also be described for applying indirectly relevant reports, such as a report on the larger health food industry, or a report profiling health-conscious consumers.

After this demonstration students should be given several minutes to explore the resource on their own, with the objective of obtaining information that can aid in identifying a target consumer. One or two students can then share their findings with the group. Details they uncover could include the fact that breakfast is the meal most commonly replaced by such foods, or that middle-aged consumers are more likely to be concerned about the nutritional content of food bars. A discussion can result in students arriving at a portrait of their target consumer: someone active and health-conscious, someone in their 40s, someone with higher than average income, most likely a professional who skips breakfast in order to rush to the office in the morning. Hence the case's title: The Commuter Bar.

The details students discover will vary, and the librarian should be prepared to use whatever the students find--there is no right answer for the purposes of this case. Given the constraints of the instructional context, this process will not be rigorous. The librarian should stress to the students that the purpose of the activity is not to demonstrate how to decide on a product's positioning, but to gain familiarity with information sources that could help in such a project.

Second Resource

Many students, hoping for low-hanging fruit, will be disappointed when they cannot find, or the library cannot provide, reports that are both current and address their product's particular niche. The best sources for more current and more narrowly focused information are news and trade publications, such as Nutraceuticals World. The librarian can describe the differences between a trade or industry publication and news and scholarly publications. After a demonstration of an aggregator of such publications, such as Factiva, ABI/Inform, LexisNexis, or RDS Business & Industry, students should be given several minutes to search for articles containing information that further illuminates the market for food bars. One or two can then share what they have found.

Third Resource (Optional)

With an understanding of the target consumer gleaned from their brief experiences with market research reports and trade journals (and perhaps some acknowledged assumptions), students can now consider how best to find or reach these consumers. The librarian can demonstrate a source for demographic information such as American Factfinder on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website (, a print resource like ESRI's Community Sourcebook of ZIP Code Demographics, or a combined GIS and marketing tool like SimplyMap. For more efficient use of time the librarian should preselect two comparable geographies, such as Denver and Baltimore, and give the students several minutes to use the demonstrated resource to determine which place best reflects the characteristics of the target demographic.

Alternatively, a tool like Simmons, MRI+, or SRDS could be demonstrated and then used to identify the media outlets in which advertisements would reach the target.

Wrap Up

Researching a market and positioning a product requires a significant investment of time and money. Students should be reminded that the approach taken during the case was quick, dirty, and riddled with assumptions. The purpose was not to teach students how best to accomplish these tasks (that is their professors' job), but to give them experience with information sources that would be useful in accomplishing these tasks.

The librarian should take the opportunity to review key principles uncovered during the session, including the appropriate use and limitations of prepackaged market research reports, the distinction between primary and secondary research, and the kinds of information the library can provide.

Submitted By

Andy Spackman
Business and Economics Librarian
Brigham Young University

Originally Submitted: March 2, 2009

  • A copy of the handout created to accompany this case as conducted at Brigham Young University in January 2010 can be downloaded here.