Recession Altering Consumers’ Supermarket Shopping Behavior: FMI

American consumers are changing their food shopping behavior and focusing on price and value at the supermarket, according to the recently released Food Marketing Institute (FMI) 2009 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report.

“Shoppers in every income bracket are facing budgetary pressures, and they are making different choices when it comes to the foods they purchase,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI president and CEO. “The recession is affecting shopper decision-making in ways that may endure. Retailers are challenged with a great opportunity to win over shoppers with money-saving ideas that appeal to their customers.”

Shoppers are economizing when it comes to food purchases. Trends identified three stages of consumer behavior:

--Stage One: Shoppers save money on eating out by switching from fine dining to fast food. They also seek supermarket meal solutions instead of restaurant fare.

--Stage Two: Consumers change their saving measures in the store by buying more private brands, using coupons, buying basic ingredients and shopping with a plan.

Stage Three; Shoppers switch store formats and choose supercenters, warehouse clubs and limited-assortment stores.

A majority of consumers (69 percent) say they’re eating out less. Another 50 percent are eating out at less expensive places.

When figuring out how to save on their grocery bills, consumers are making plans before going to the supermarket, leading to fewer impulse purchases. In fact, 53 percent say they make a shopping list, 40 percent search newspaper or advertising inserts, and 35 percent say they hunt for coupons in the mail, newspapers and magazines.

The effort to save money continues once shoppers are in the store. The popularity of private label continues to rise, with 97 percent of shoppers saying they plan to buy the same amount of private brands or more during the next year.

Retailers understand the importance of marketing private label. Some stores are conducting in-store comparison tests to measure shoppers’ preference for store brands vs. national brand alternatives. Words linked with private label in the minds of consumers include “quality,” “value,” “cheaper” and “inexpensive.” Shoppers view private brands as a value-added offering in tough economic times.

“Shoppers are focused on finding the best prices for the food they purchase,” noted Sarasin. “It is the No. 1 reason consumers pick which stores they shop at to stock up and which ones they choose for fill-in trips.”

Full-service supermarkets were identified by 56 percent of shoppers as their primary store, down from 60 percent last year. Customers are loyal to their primary store, with just 6 percent saying they changed stores to save money on groceries, but when it comes to making a secondary trip, 42 percent of shoppers occasionally shop at other stores, such as supercenters and warehouse stores, to take advantage of specials. Supercenters have 27 percent of the market share when it comes to grocery shopping, and are steadily raising their share from 22 percent in 2005.

Most shoppers say they go to a full-service supermarket either fairly often (31 percent) or almost every time (44 percent). Supercenters are the second most popular format, visited regularly by 39 percent of consumers.

The most price-sensitive shoppers report making more frequent trips to the store (2.3 weekly visits vs. the average of 2.0 trips) to take advantage of the specials offered at different retail formats.

Over three-quarters of shoppers (76 percent) almost always check the price of a product before they buying it for the first time. 
Consumers spend an average of $98.40 weekly on groceries, up slightly from $97.80 in 2008, but this increase is offset by the 5.7 percent food-at-home inflation rate.

“The recession has brought consumers home -- 55 percent say they are preparing more meals at home than last year,” observed Sarasin. “Preparing meals at home is the best way to control food costs and ensure healthy eating.”

Consumers say they are concerned about the nutritional content of their food, and 92 percent say they eat healthier at home. Shoppers admit the foods they eat at home could be healthier (57 percent), but they believe food prepared at home is better for them. Nearly three-quarters of consumers say food they consume away from home could be somewhat (48 percent) or a lot (24 percent) healthier.

Consumers seek time-saving, affordable and healthy choices for mealtime. They are most interested in easy-to-make recipes (48 percent); recipes for cooking a meal for $10 or less (44 percent); and convenient placement in the store for dinner items such as pasta, sauce, bread, meat and salad (28 percent).

Retailers are providing tools and information online and in stores to help customers make healthy choices at the supermarket, including: nutrition and health information (71 percent), in-store pharmacists (70 percent) to provide health-and-wellness advice, in-store health clinics (8 percent), and dietitians or nutritionists (6 percent).

A majority of shoppers (83 percent) say they are either “somewhat” or “very confident” in the safety of food in the supermarket. This degree of confidence is fragile , however, because 72 percent say they are only “somewhat” confident. The report also found that nearly one-third (31 percent) of consumers stopped buying a particular food because of safety concerns.

Consumers are more comfortable with food produced or grown in the United States than imported products: 90 percent of shoppers are either very or somewhat comfortable with U.S. foods, compared with only 42 percent for foreign foods.

Unchanged from 2008, the majority of shoppers (89 percent) trust grocery stores to sell safe food but are less trusting of the government to ensure the safety of food: 79 percent agree with the statement, “I trust the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure that the food I purchase is safe,” and 76 percent expressed the same view about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Supermarkets are in a unique position to help restore consumer confidence in the safety of food because they can enhance change in several areas: consumer education, supermarket operations, product recall management and improved working relationships with manufacturers and suppliers,” noted Sarasin.

Retailers are working to enhance food safety in many ways, among them implementing safe food-handling procedures throughout the store and continuously educating store associates through programs such as FMI’s SuperSafeMark®; streamlining the recall process by instituting electronic communication between manufacturers and retailers using the FMI Product Recall Portal, powered by GS1 US (formerly the Uniform Code Council); requesting suppliers to become audited through recognized, accredited certification programs such as FMI’s Safe Quality Food (SQF), to ensure suppliers comply with international and domestic food safety regulations; and taking part in the Partnership for Food Safety Education, which brings together consumer groups, federal agencies and industry associations to develop food safety education programs for consumers.

Consumers continue to strongly support locally grown products. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of shoppers say they buy locally grown products regularly basis. Some of the reasons they like to buy local are freshness (82 percent), to support the local economy (75 percent), taste (58 percent), and concern about the environmental impact of transporting foods across great distances (35 percent).

The economy hasn’t had a major impact on consumer interest in sustainability. Over half (59 percent) of shoppers say retailers’ recycling and sustainability initiatives are important. The vast majority of retailers (94 percent) sell reusable shopping bags, and more consumers (40 percent) are bringing their own bags when they shop for groceries. There’s growing evidence that sustainability can make sound business sense, by lowering costs and increasing consumer loyalty.

Data for U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2009 was collected through surveys conducted by Harris Poll Online among a nationally representative sample of 2,040 U.S. shoppers.

To buy a copy ($95 for FMI Retailers/Wholesaler Members, $175 for FMI Associate Members and $250 for nonmembers), call the FMI Store at 202-220-0723 or visit
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