From Speculation to Strategy: How Johnsonville Used Behaviorally Verified Research to Drive Decision-Making

Karen Kraft and Megan Copas


Consumer survey panels are invaluable for brands seeking consumer insights. Tapping into consumer preferences, perceptions and behaviors can inform key decisions around product development, advertising, marketing and more. But these insights are only as good as the sample quality behind them.

We’ll explore the role behaviorally verified research played in helping national meat purveyor, Johnsonville, understand the key factors driving changes in shopper behavior.


Across popular breakfast items and categories, Johnsonville and Kroger had noticed a decline in sales specifically focusing on breakfast meats — both sausage and bacon. Unit sales were down across both categories, with fewer households purchasing these items and buyers putting these items in their basket on fewer trips.

Johnsonville executives speculated on several potential reasons for the sales slump, including price increases, consumers returning to offices, inflationary pressures, changes to SNAP benefits, rising egg prices and interest in healthier alternatives. However, without concrete insights directly from shoppers, the true drivers were unclear.

To get to the bottom of the changes in shopper behavior, Johnsonville collaborated with 84.51°, a retail data, insights and media company. Johnsonville used 84.51° Stratum, the business insights tool to find the relevant behavioral insights, and identified the existence of a large group of consumers who were continuing to engage in the categories but who were dramatically reducing their spend.

By leveraging 84.51°’s agile research solution, Real Time Insights, Johnsonville was able to survey a niche consumer group of 150 verified bacon-buying households and 150 verified breakfast sausage-buying households that had reduced their purchases of these items by 50% or more in the past year.

The consumers were known purchasers because they were sourced from the panel of Kroger shoppers who have been verified from transaction data. This approach enables the ability to survey shoppers with very complex behaviors such as “those who reduced their purchases by X percent, over Y period of time” which is something that the consumer would not be able to determine for themselves.

The survey provided insights directly from those consumers identified as important to both Johnsonville and Kroger and illuminated the true factors impacting purchase frequency and quantities.

Unsurprisingly, price and inflationary environment were large reasons for both bacon and breakfast sausage; however, the study uncovered that there were several other reasons that differed somewhat across the bacon and sausage categories.

While executives had speculated on numerous possibilities, the survey enabled Johnsonville to identify the primary factors influencing their shoppers’ changing behaviors to inform their response. The verified survey panels ensured respondents represented their actual target audience and ensured Johnsonville felt confident in the results.

These shopper-driven insights helped both Kroger and Johnsonville form strategies for reigniting growth across the breakfast meat category that addresses real customer interests, preferences and needs. Some of the actions taken in response to the research included a reexamination of promotions, inspirational recipes and a focus on inspiring these categories as potential options for convenient, on-the-go meals.  


A recent study conducted by 84.51° dug into the value of behaviorally verified samples for research projects. The purpose of the study was to understand the sample quality and insights from respondents recruited using verified purchase history versus self-claimed behavior.

The study utilized a sample of 2,700 respondents broken out by the following groups:

  • 900 behaviorally verified buyers: Buyers selected based on actual category shopping behavior and confirms self-claimed remembering of behavior.
  • 900 matched self-claimed respondents: Buyers selected on self-claimed category shopping behavior who can be matched back to actual purchases after survey completion to assess the “say vs. do” gap.
  • 900 self-claimed respondents: Buyers selected on self-claimed category shopping only.

 All respondents completed the same 15-question online survey fielded through 84.51°’s Real Time Insights solution in April and May 2023.

The key findings of the study showed that when you use self-claimed respondents:

  • You might be talking to the wrong shoppers — 75% of self-claimed respondents stated they had bought a specific category at Kroger in the past 3 months but behavioral data revealed zero sales and units in that category in the same timeframe.
  • You are likely creating the wrong research cells or subgroups — when using self-claimed units, spend, or visits to create loyalty groups, 60% of respondents were misclassified into the wrong groups.
  • Your results and decisions would change across key measures in studies — self-claimed respondents had double-digit inflated results across core consumer research metrics including purchase intention, ad ratings, brand attribute ratings and Net Promoter Score.

When sample quality suffers, so does the value derived from the research investment. Misleading data can lead to misinformed product decisions and launches, ineffective campaigns and wasted budgets.


While it is typically easier and more prevalent to recruit self-claimed survey respondents, behaviorally verified respondents bring proven accuracy. In a complex retail landscape, behaviorally verified research powers confident strategies grounded in relevant shopper perspectives.
Verified purchase data also ensures brands are connecting with real proven category buyers. As the

Johnsonville case study demonstrates, hearing from shoppers who are confirmed to fit specific criteria is essential for understanding the actual challenge and making informed decisions.

After all, confidence in business decisions begins with the confidence that you have insights from the most relevant consumers of your category or brand.

Karen Kraft is the associate director of consumer insights and analytics at Johnsonville. Megan Copas is the director of consumer research at 84.51°.


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