Gauging Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Gauging Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition

In order to effectively track and measure the success of USB’s marketing programs designed to manage health and biotech concerns, Publicis Dialog recommended and initiated an annual consumer research study.

Paul Holmes


What makes a research document creative and strategic? The United Soybean Board and its agency, Publicis Dialog, believe the answer lies first in creating an active, evolving research tool that aids in anticipating new trends in public opinion about nutrition. We strategically place that research at the very core of the total program, steering all aspects of media relations, issues management and industry communications. Then, we follow through by using the subsequent year’s research study to effectively measure our successes in these arenas.


The United Soybean Board (USB) comprises 62 volunteer farmers who represent the interests of 600,000 soybean producers nationwide.  USB manages funding allocated toward the marketing and promotion of soy products, with an overall goal of increasing domestic utilization of U.S. soybeans from 1.2 to 1.75 million bushels by 2005. Health and safety concerns pose a significant threat to soy market share.  There is an increasing controversy over agricultural biotechnology, as well as general confusion about the safety and efficacy of soyfoods and soybean oil.  

In order to effectively track and measure the success of USB’s marketing and promotional programs that are designed to manage these health and biotech concerns while growing market share, Publicis Dialog recommended and initiated an annual consumer research study in 1993. The survey, titled Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition, not only provides USB and Publicis Dialog with an accurate measurement of program performance, but also extends the opportunity to serve as a dynamic communication tool. USB’s unique, imaginative approach to sharing this information with key audiences has earned much acclaim from the food industry and healthcare professionals.


The consumer attitudes survey has a seven-year track record, and Publicis Dialog continually builds on past results by monitoring the changes in consumer perception from year to year. This approach adds value to the research tool by replacing outdated survey questions as issues change. The study also enables USB to proactively begin to question consumers about concerns experts predict may become new issues. 

During the research phase of the process, Publicis Dialog considered what information would be pertinent for our target food and feed industry audiences. We looked for questions that would elucidate information not already presented to the industry elsewhere, that would positively impact their perception of soy regarding oil and protein. We also contemplated what would be useful for our internal knowledge, such as views on biotechnology and trans fat, that we might not publicize but would want to know for strategic planning purposes.


Publicis Dialog identified USB’s key audiences as food industry professionals, registered dietitians and allied healthcare professionals, food trade media, and health and nutrition media, and developed objectives as follows:

Gauge consumers’ attitudes about nutrition and soy products, and chart how those views change over time.  Evaluate consumer awareness of the newly approved health claim for the cholesterol-lowering properties of soy.

Identify consumer perception trends and use that information for strategic planning and issues management. 

Communicate survey information to between two and four percent of USB’s target audiences via direct mail offerings.

Generate a five percent increase in requests for consumer research information from USB target audiences.


Design and develop an integrated tool for research, planning, and evaluation that will inform and help evaluate USB’s communications program.

Analyze data and determine how the results impact current program activities.

Use research results as a communications tool offered to key audiences. Develop a direct mail piece to generate interest in the USB target markets in order to promote survey results to food and healthcare professionals and members of the media covering those industries.

Measure awareness of the soy protein health claim and the health benefits of soy before and after the media relations campaign.

Build and maintain USB’s reputation as an information resource by making information extremely accessible.


Publicis Dialog works with an independent research firm to develop and refine the survey questions. The study includes over 800 random telephone surveys, providing a sample consistent with the total American population. The survey covers consumer perceptions of both general heath issues, such as concern about fat, as well as specific issues of concern for USB, such as biotechnology, hydrogenated oils and likelihood to purchase soyfoods. 

Upon completion of the survey, the research firm compiles results and provides Publicis Dialog with a comprehensive analysis, which includes a synopsis of statistically significant shifts in perception. Publicis combs through the analysis presented by the research firm and examines how to strategically extract, highlight and present key information to USB audiences. Publicis isolates the findings that are most relevant and determines the best way to creatively package those materials to concisely summarize the findings.

The program included, but was not limited to, the following tactics (see binder for more information):

Use survey data to develop effective communication materials and messaging to better manage complex soy-related issues. 

Extract the most pertinent data from the survey and produce an informative brochure that builds on past data and highlights potential trends. 

Develop and distribute a direct mail piece offering the brochure to key audiences.

Promote and distribute Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition brochures at trade shows.

Partner with Soy Connection, a newsletter for registered dietitians, offering the brochure as an incentive to dietitians who fill out the annual reader’s survey in the newsletter.

Post Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition on USB’s Web site,, for industry professionals and media to download free of charge.

Present relevant information from the survey to select food trade publications and create and place editorials.


Publicis Dialog’s successful program produced significant results so early that USB decided to raise its initial goal of increasing domestic utilization of U.S. soybeans from 1.2 to 1.5 billion by 2005 to an even more dramatic goal of reaching 1.75 billion bushels by the same date. 

The study pinpointed areas of consumer confusion and concern that Publicis Dialog can begin to address in the 2001 – 2002 season. The impact on strategic planning includes allocation of resources to address, for example, consumer confusion on trans fat and hydrogenation and lack of knowledge that vegetable oil is indeed soybean oil. For instance, Publicis Dialog can now recommend to members of the food industry that they differentiate their vegetable oil by adding “soy” to the label, since soy is considered a health benefit.  The following results pertain to tangible outcomes already demonstrated by the research program: 

Gauge consumer attitudes about nutrition and soyfoods. 

After a major media campaign using messages that tested favorably in the previous year’s research study, USB used the current year’s study to measure how its efforts increased awareness of soy’s cholesterol-lowering properties from 28 percent to 35 percent. 

The survey identified that 89 percent of consumers view soybean oil as the most healthy, yet 78 percent remain unaware that vegetable oil is synonymous with soybean oil. This information led Publicis Dialog to create media materials on the advantages of listing “soybean oil” on product labels, including an editorial for food trade press. 

Identify consumer trends and utilize information for strategic planning. 

Despite activist contention that American consumers are overwhelmingly opposed to biotechnology, Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition demonstrates that only 21 percent of consumers would not buy a product with biotech on the label. USB used this information to help reassure food industry executives at onsite meetings and in letters to senior executives of companies such as McDonalds, Walmart, Safeway and Kellogg’s, that consumer concerns about “genetically modified” soy products may have been exaggerated. 

The study demonstrated that consumers view the term “biotechnology” much more favorably than “genetically modified.” In fact, 71 percent would continue to buy a product with “biotechnology” on the label, as opposed to 58 percent for “genetically modified.” Publicis Dialog used this information to craft messages that utilize the more favorable language. We also advise farmer spokespersons on these language choices during media training. 

Communicate survey information to two to four percent of target markets. 

The seven percent response rate for the direct mailing far exceeds the original objective and the industry standard. 

Generate a five percent increase in requests for consumer research information from target audiences. 

The brochure, offered as a pdf file, is downloaded from the Web site an average of 600 times per month.

The reader’s survey response rate for Soy Connection increased by 200 percent when a copy of the Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition brochure was offered as an incentive piece.

Food and healthcare industry audiences continually remark on how they find the data genuinely useful in developing new products in the food industry and counseling patients in the medical world. Large food companies like ADM routinely request several hundred copies of the research summary.  

At trade shows, where attendees are absolutely inundated with public relations materials from exhibitors, the study outperforms other collateral by two to one.
Rather than develop a static research tool with one-time-only relevance, Publicis Dialog and the United Soybean Board created an innovative research study that shapes the entire program from inception to evaluation. The study charts soy’s growing recognition and appeal, and indeed helps propel soy into mainstream markets. 

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