Interview: Out of the shadow of America No longer the USA’s ‘back yard’, TNS director Wander Meijer charts the evolution of a discerning consumer class in Latin America
On the day Esomar’s Latin American conference opens in Mexico City, the region’s reputation for being North America’s ‘back yard’ – a convenient place to sell second hand cars, machines and consumer goods – is being cleaned up as a new consumer class emerges from the shanty towns. Wander Meijer, TNS regional director for Latin America, told Research: “There is no market for old junk here anymore. You see the same adverts for the same products as you see in other parts of the world.”
Sociological changes have altered the region and started the boom in research work. “For the first time in decades,” Meijer said, “poverty is decreasing. People who were living in shanty towns are now becoming consumers. There are lots of new property developments in Brazil for instance, and it seems everyone in Sao Paulo drives a new car.”
Leading international brands are targeting Latin America’s new consumer class, and providing work for research firms in the process, but thriving Latin American companies are “doing the same level of market research as multi-nationals” according to Meijer.
Phone companies like Telecom in Argentina and Telmex in Mexico, as well as Mexican bakery company Grupo Bimbo have been carrying out increased levels of research throughout Latin America. Others are spreading their wings further afield. Meijer said that one major Mexican food manufacturer has been “using a lot of market research” as it starts exporting tacos to China.
The MR industry in Latin America was estimated to be worth $1.2bn in 2006, up 17% on the previous year. But despite the impressive figures, undertaking research work in the region offers some unique challenges, according to Meijer. “There are lots of obstacles to businesses,” he said. “In Asia, the governments help you but you don’t get that impression here. Every thing takes more time and you find you have to work more hours to get the same thing done.”
The practical side also presents problems as the percentage of the population with internet access is low, making panel building “very slow” says Meijer, who moved to Argentina in 2007 after heading TNS’s East Asia business in Hong Kong for nine years.“Technology,” he said, “is not all that good and the CATI systems are less developed so there is more face-to-face work.”
Even then, there are hurdles to overcome that researchers in other regions would baulk at: “We don’t want to send fieldworkers into some areas with expensive PDAs because they would get robbed,” Meijer said. “We work with community leaders to get into the closed communities – it is never random interviews.” But the situation is improving. Certainly political stability has been a boon for the region, as well as the MR industry. “20 years ago, most of the countries here were not democracies. Now that there are democracies, there are very stable economies – and they are growing,” said Meijer. “I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.”