Norfolk's army of food producers is being offered the power of branding and marketing insight usually the preserve of multi-million-pound companies, thanks to the University of East Anglia.

By analysing the shopping habits of millions of consumers, students from the UEA's Norwich Business School can show how they can develop and market their products to best effect – and have already more than 600 businesses across the country to grow.

The project is the result of an exclusive agreement with Tesco, which has allowed students access to the data of more than 20 million Clubcard users, which show purchasing patterns and demographic breakdowns.

That data is usually sold to major companies but, said Prof Andrew Fearne, the academic leading the project, the supermarket recognised the value of allowing research which could strengthen its smaller suppliers.

'It's all about helping them to make smarter decisions about their marketing, so that they can develop their brands and grow their business,' he added.

'Without it, you might think that your market is young families when – in fact – it's older people.'

Prof Fearne cited the example of a premium local free-range egg producer looking to boost sales.

'You might be tempted to reduce your prices – the worst thing you can do as a small producer as you can't reduce your costs – but our research might show your customers aren't basing their decisions on price at all. In that case, linked promotions would be more beneficial.'

From September, a new final-year business management module on shopping and marketing will be launched, with up to 30 students. Each will work with one company to analyse shopping data and advise on how they can use it to grow their business.

The business school was showcasing its technology at the UEA's stand in the Innovation Hub tent at the Royal Norfolk Showground.

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