Skip to main content

Expert Column: Understanding the Evolution of U.S. Grocery Shoppers


The food business was once a story of slow growth and steady change. No more.

Digital communications, generational changes, global perspectives and venture capital are turning the business upside-down, so there's never been a better time to assess food-shopping attitudes and behaviors.

Cue our new study, "Food Shopping in America, 2014," undertaken in partnership with The Harman Group, the same organization that spotted and charted the rise of organic foods. They know change; we know food marketing. Here's what we learned together, and how you can use it to drive customer loyalty and sales growth.

On average, U.S. grocery buyers now shop three different channels per week, including visits to grocery, specialty, mass-merchandise, club, convenience, dollar and online stores. This results in 15 visits a month, with 52 percent shopping at two or more stores per trip.

Food Shoppers Seek Rewarding Experiences

Value and relevance are very important to consumers as they shop. With more time and money constraints than ever, consumers look for shopping to be a "rewarding experience." Try offers like these to create a more fulfilling experience:

  • Inspiring prepared food options
  • Higher-quality products
  • Global fare
  • Fresh offerings
  • Special services

Consumers seek more rewarding food experiences from all types of food retailers. However, they say specialty/natural, club and online channels are best at delivering highly relevant, unique products and services that fuel their aspirations, leading to the highest advocacy scores.

In the past month, 36 percent shopped at specialty/natural food stores, 46 percent shopped club, and 13 percent spent at least 5 percent of their grocery bill online. Be ready for that last number to rise quickly and continue to skew male.

While alternative channels are gaining traction because they tend to better engage consumers, the majority of Americans still shop at grocery and mass/super stores each month (89 percent and 85 percent, respectively). To remain competitive, grocery and mass/super should continue to adopt the most popular features of those channels.

Wake-up Call: The Male Shopper

Grocery retail can no longer ignore male shoppers, and it's important to consider them in product innovation, merchandising and other marketing efforts.

Men are still less likely to be the biggest spender in the household, but more men are helping their partners by sharing grocery-shopping responsibilities. Men now comprise 43 percent of primary shoppers and – get this! – make just as many monthly store visits as women. That said, you’ll find them at different locations.

Brands and grocery retailers have the opportunity to understand the male shopper as their presence starts to become a major force on the shopping landscape.

  • Unlike women, men tend to shop more often in club (34 percent), convenience (21 percent) and online (6 percent) retailers for foods and beverages.
  • Men show a preference for club, convenience and online stores because these channels allow them to easily find everything they need.
  • With their higher household income and spending power, men are less price-sensitive than women. Instead, convenience takes priority.
  • Unlike women, men prefer to simply "search and retrieve" the few items they need, rather than browse. Search and retrieve is all about getting in and out of the store as quickly as possible.
  • What are men buying? Their shopping baskets are full of more meat and alcoholic beverages, but they aren't neglecting produce, sweets and snacks.

Don’t mistake men's lack of planning for lack of caring, or think they're willing to accept items of lesser quality with higher price tags. To engage with male shoppers, offer tools and services to help them quickly and effortlessly locate and buy items.

Maybe it's stereotypical, but I love an example spotted last month (see image above): Beef jerky hanging like a fly strip to catch guys as they reached into the chilled beer case!

About the Study

"Food Shopping in America, 2014" is an in-depth qualitative and quantitative study jointly developed, conducted and interpreted by Bellevue, Wash.-based consumer research firm The Hartman Group and food and nutrition marketing agency MSLGROUP. It seeks to explain how consumers plan, decide and shop in the era of unlimited choices and blurring channels. The full study can be purchased at

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds