Around the world, consumers are looking for a taste of the good life. And it’s not just those who are wealthy. Sales of products in the “premium” tier—which Nielsen defines as goods that cost at least 20% more than average price for the category—are growing at a rapid pace. In fact, the growth of the premium sector in many markets is outpacing total growth for many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) categories. Between 2012 and 2014, the premium segment grew 21% in Southeast Asia, more than double the rate of the mainstream and value tiers (8% and 10%, respectively). Premium products grew 23% over the same period in China. In Latin America, growth in the premium segment outpaced total FMCG growth in every market except Mexico and Venezuela in the 12 months ended June 2016.
But how do consumers view “premium”? When it comes to buying premium products, for the vast majority of respondents, it turns out that it’s not just about the higher-than-average price tag. In fact, less than one-third of global respondents (31%) say they consider a product to be premium because it’s expensive—a clear warning to companies who push up prices without providing a very clear value proposition to support the change. Rather, respondents define premium products by exceptional quality and performance. Fifty-four percent of global respondents say a premium product is made with high-quality materials or ingredients. This is the most common response in every region and nearly every country in the survey. In addition, 46% of global respondents say a premium product is defined by superior function or performance.
Nearly four in 10 global respondents say premium products are defined by superior design or style (38%) or by a well-known brand name (38%), but these attributes are more important in some markets than others. Superior style is more commonly cited in emerging markets, including Venezuela (50%), Vietnam (49%), China (47%), Egypt (45%) and a few Central and Eastern European markets (Croatia, 46%; Serbia, 45%; and Turkey, 43%). Consumers also more commonly cited a trusted brand in Asia and in emerging markets, including Vietnam (61%), the Philippines (59%), South Africa (57%), Malaysia (51%), Estonia (50%) and Kazakhstan (50%).
“Connection to a brand’s values remain particularly important in emerging markets, for both practical and emotional reasons,” said Liana Lubel, senior vice president, Nielsen Innovation Practice. “As consumers move up the economic ladder, they’re attracted to aspirational brands that signal they’ve achieved a certain level of success. Nonetheless, for many, disposable incomes remain limited, and for these consumers, trusted brands provide an assurance of quality, minimizing the risk of wasting money on a product that doesn’t fulfill expectations.”
While a high price tag falls relatively low on the list of defining features for premium products globally (eighth out of 11 features in terms of the percentage who selected each attribute), it is significantly more important in Europe, cited by 45% of respondents in Central and Eastern Europe and 33% in Western Europe. In fact, the notion that a product is expensive tops the list of most commonly cited premium-product attributes in Russia (63%), Ukraine (tied with quality materials at 62%) and France (56%), and it’s second in Switzerland (43%), Germany (41%), Austria (39%) and Belgium (37%). Sentiment does vary within the region, however. In many other European markets, including Italy (15%), Bulgaria (12%) and Finland (9%), the percentage of respondents who say a premium product is defined by cost is well below the global average.
The defining features of premium products are remarkably similar among respondents of all ages. High-quality materials or ingredients are the most commonly selected features for every generation, though Baby Boomers (ages 50–64) and Silent Generation respondents are more likely to cite this feature (69% and 61%, respectively) than Millennial and Generation Z (ages 20 and under) respondents (50% and 45%, respectively). Younger respondents are more likely to cite superior style or design and superior customer service.
Other findings from Nielsen’s Global Premiumization Survey include:
The Nielsen Global Premiumization Survey was conducted March 1–23, 2016, and polled more than 30,000 online consumers in 63 countries throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East/Africa and North America. The sample includes internet users who agreed to participate in this survey and has quotas based on age and sex for each country. It is weighted to be representative of internet consumers by country. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. However, a probability sample of equivalent size would have a margin of error of ±0.6% at the global level. This Nielsen survey is based only on the behavior of respondents with online access. Internet penetration rates vary by country. Nielsen uses a minimum reporting standard of 60% internet penetration or an online population of 10 million for survey inclusion.