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FMI Digs Into How Grocery Shoppers Find Value

Series provides snapshot of consumer behavior
Value Shopper in Supermarket Main Image
Among FMI's latest research findings, 37% of grocery shoppers now use their mobile phones to compare prices across the store, a 28-point rise from 2016.

While shoppers still enjoy buying food, they also care about value – although defining that term can be tricky, according to a new FMI – The Food Industry Association survey conducted by The Hartman Group. The analysis starting off this 2024 series, U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends: Finding Value, offers a snapshot of grocery consumer behavior amid ongoing concerns about inflation’s effect on food costs.

Consumer worries about food inflation linger, but FMI’s newly introduced U.S. Grocery Shopper Sentiment Index, which gauges shoppers’ collective feelings and attitudes toward grocery shopping as well as their attitude toward their current primary store, found that grocery shopper sentiment reached a post-COVID-19 pandemic high in 2023 (72 out of 100) and remains high  (70 out of 100), with more than half of shoppers surveyed expressing positive feelings about grocery shopping. This score, achieved at the height of price inflation, indicates that despite the challenges that price inflation may raise, it hasn’t diminished the overall grocery experience and outcomes for many shoppers.

[RELATED: How Grocers Play a Key Role in Healthy Eating]

“FMI’s national survey found that grocery shoppers’ concerns about inflation have stabilized in recent months, illustrating how resilient consumers are when it comes to food shopping,” noted Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based FMI. “To manage higher prices, shoppers are increasingly prioritizing getting good value, which involves focusing more on quality and optimizing purchases for personal enjoyment, convenience and waste reduction at home.”

Added Sarasin: “This is not to say that price is irrelevant to the value equation – 91% of shoppers concerned with rising prices have made some changes to their shopping habits to achieve better price value. While half of shoppers surveyed say they are looking for more deals, only 32% are buying fewer items and far fewer are cutting back on key food categories or attributes such as organic (15%) or fresh items (14%).”

During a press briefing to introduce the research, Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group, in Bellevue, Wash., pointed out that how much shoppers enjoy grocery shopping varies among different demographics. “Millennials and Gen Z say they love or like grocery shopping more than the Gen Xers or the Baby Boomers do,” noted Demeritt, “and our research shows that where and how consumers shop for food also differs depending on age. So you can see that Gen Z and Millennial shoppers tend to shop more banners or different stores than older shoppers. However, the supermarket remains the top primary store choice for older shoppers; that’s likely driven by habit and the sheer product variety that a traditional grocery store offers. Millennials, on the other hand … are more likely to shop at a mass retailer, like a Target or a Walmart, as their primary store.”

[RELATED: Gen Alpha The Food-Confident Consumers]

In the realm of value, FMI VP of Research and Insights Steve Markenson broke down its various facets during the briefing.

“High-quality products and great selection variety are just as, if not more, important than the price the shoppers have to pay for their groceries,” explained Markenson. “The trend speaks to a larger shift towards shoppers prioritizing getting good value as their top priority when shopping for food and groceries, even above and beyond concerns for rising prices. As our trends report from 2023 last year revealed, good value has evolved to be a much more complex matrix that goes beyond that traditional kind of price/quality calculation that some folks make and that ratio, and it's much more involved in terms of what they put into those considerations.”

According to Markenson, consumers consider four main factors to determine whether a product is worth the cost: “quality, which really reflects those personal food standards and preferences that folks have, their aspirations related to freshness and eating healthy and the nutritional attributes that foods bring and the ethics that come with producing the food that they're considering buying; relevance, which includes deliberation over needs versus wants, necessity versus indulgence, household preferences, utility and potentially our ability to reduce food waste; experience, [which] captures things like just the basic pleasure and taste of the food that they're eating, the novelty, and also the idea of discovering something new and different in the foods that they eat; [and] convenience, which includes factors like speed, ease, flexibility, accessibility – all those aspects come into play – plus considerations of experience and relevance as well.”

The survey additionally uncovered the following:

  • Despite a decade-long trend toward mass retailers, 40% of shoppers now opt for supermarkets as their primary store, versus 32% choosing mass stores.
  • Occasional online shopping rose from 49% to 67%, but frequent online shopping peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic and has since dropped to nearly pre-pandemic levels.
  • While online grocery growth has slowed, shoppers increasingly value digital touchpoints: 50% of them use e-coupons, surpassing the 37% who use physical coupons; further, 37% of grocery shoppers now use their mobile phones to compare prices across the store, a 28-point rise from 2016.
  • Americans continue to say they like cooking, but while daily meals are increasingly sourced from home, shoppers spend less time on dinner prep (32% under 30 minutes, up from 18% in February 2020).
  • While nutrition objectives have remained steady for grocery shoppers as a whole, individuals continue to explore and experiment with eating approaches and check labels for different claims as they age.
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