The Food Marketing Institute has been conducting its U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends survey since 2006, and the most recent update shows surprising shifts in where consumers are shopping, or, more to the point, where they are not shopping. Most notably, in 2006 64% of respondents said supermarkets were their outlet of choice. That number has fallen to 52% in the 2015 edition of the survey.
With that data in mind it is appropriate to ask where consumers are going to buy groceries. The F.M.I. survey includes such additional retail formats as supercenters (23% in 2015), club stores (6% in 2015), discounters (2%), limited assortment operators (4%), organic/specialty outlets (3%) and other (1%). Except for supercenters, all of the retail channels have held relatively steady since 2006. With regard to supercenters, in 2006, 23% of shoppers indicated they were the outlet of choice. That number rose to 29% in 2013, but has fallen back to 23% in 2015.
What stands out from the survey is the number of consumers who indicate they have “no primary outlet.” This option was added to the survey in 2011 and 2% of survey takers chose it. In the 2014 and 2015 surveys, that number has risen to a noteworthy 9%.
It is also worth observing that as a number of retail formats increases their food and beverage selections, consumers are being conditioned to do their grocery shopping in new locations. In mid-June, Crain’s Chicago Business reported the trend will continue as the CVS drug store chain plans to introduce fresh and prepared foods in approximately 500 of the chain’s 7,800 outlets. If the program goes well, the retailer will expand it to more stores.
There are a number of reasons why so many more consumers now say they have no primary grocery shopping outlet. The recession, for example, made some consumers more value focused, and these shoppers are more willing to visit multiple outlets in an effort to save money. This practice may have been reinforced by falling gasoline prices that make an additional trip or two a more affordable option.
But one should not discount the impact of food service on supermarkets and shopping patterns. The F.M.I. report highlights how some consumers are planning meals, and immediate consumption now accounts for 16% of all eating occasions. Supermarkets are enhancing their prepared foods services and offerings in an effort to meet the needs of consumers who define this trend.
But there is much discussion today about the millennial demographic and how the consumers who fit within the age range are influenced by such technologies as comprehensive search functions and social media. This generation also has grown up as the drive thru phenomenon has blossomed. It would not be a stretch to imagine some consumers who do not differentiate between buying food for home consumption from a retail format vs. a food service outlet.
As the changes taking place at retail continue, one must also consider the impact e-commerce is going to have on the segment. Both Wal-Mart Stores and Kroger are investing heavily in models designed to enhance how they interact with consumers. Those efforts combined with such food service outlets as McDonald’s and Starbucks testing delivery programs ensures the market will continue to shift.
Consumers today have an unprecedented number of options to shop for food, beverages and prepared meals. As these choices continue to broaden it is more important than ever for food companies to find ways to participate. The market is in a period of disruption, and consumer packaged foods makers must meet the challenge of being where the consumer wants their products to be.