Farmers and food producers risk losing one of the world’s best marketing resources because they are not making enough use of the free service.

The Academy of Consumer Research at Kent Business School holds sales data on 1.2m supermarket shoppers, providing detailed information on national buying habits.

Farmers looking to diversify their core business or find a new market for an existing product can use the data to discover where opportunities might lie.

All they have to do is contact the appropriate levy board with a question.

Andrew Fearne, who runs the academy, said the information made it much easier to target marketing efforts.

“The service we offer here is fundamentally free.

You can use the data to find who buys a product and who doesn’t buy it.”

The data come from Tesco’s pool of 12m active store card carriers, which is owned by market research company Dunnhumby.

But Dr Fearne said it had been more difficult than expected to connect with farmers because they did not appear to know about the service.

“This is not about supplying Tesco, it is about targeting scarce resources better.”

The data have to be accessed through the farming levy boards, and not all had risen to the challenge, he added.

Producers or processors need to have a fairly specific question about a product, relating it to a specific target market in terms of location, lifestyle or age.

That has to be sent to the levy board, which passes it on to the Dunnhumby academy.

It costs participants like the Meat and Livestock Commission £20,000 a year to access the sales data.

That sponsors a PhD student for the year and gives the sponsor the right to request two pieces of in-depth analysis a month.

The Horticulture Development Council and the Home-Grown Cereals Authority have also signed up, giving their levy-payers the right to pitch marketing questions at Dr Fearne.

But requests from farmers for specific information have been scarce. On the other hand, the academy has two researchers sponsored by Greek companies looking to identify gaps in the market for dairy products.

Dr Fearne hopes the slow uptake is simply because the service has not been publicised well enough.

“The MLC can make 24 requests this year, but it’s not going to get anywhere near that.

If people are not being found to use the data, Dunnhumby will say either we’re not the right partner or the sector’s not interested.

Then we won’t see the data again.”

fwbusiness@rbi.co.uk