NGA: Food Shopping – Big Changes Ahead

Feb 24, 2011
Al McClain

At last week’s National Grocers Association’s annual
convention, Phil Lempert (the “SupermarketGuru”) offered some insights
into food shopping trends.

Here are some of the trends he sees for the coming

  • Brands are shortening ingredient lists and using more “real” foods.
  • Shoppers are getting back to basics and are interested in preparing easy,
    great tasting meals.
  • The butcher is back, via a renewed interest in local butchers in stores.
  • Power of the collective: Shoppers are depending less on advertising and
    more on social networking and word of mouth to help them make food buying
  • New nutritional guidelines will empower the population to make changes
    in their diets.
  • Foods will be viewed more holistically versus focusing on individual ingredients.
    “All natural” claims won’t be enough.
  • Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico will be more popular than ever as the area
  • Vitamin D will be touted more and milk will make a comeback.
  • New beverages flavored with Stevia and unique fruit flavors will be popular.
  • Food allergies are on the decline.
  • Regional foods will be the “new local.”

And, here are some of the things consumers said in responding to NGA’s
Sixth annual survey

  • Ninety-one percent say high-quality fruits and vegetables are important
    (up five points from last year) as they keep health a priority.
  • Price is still important, although consumers are tired of economizing and
    want the quality, items and service they used to get in their food stores.
  • Seventy-six percent say nutritional and health information is somewhat
    to very important.
  • Sixty-three percent say it’s important for their supermarket to be
    involved in the community.
  • Shoppers would like to see improvement include the availability of locally
    grown foods (44 percent), price/cost savings (42 percent), more variety (28
    percent), more organic foods (26 percent), and more ethnic offerings (23
  • In terms of “what makes you buy,” 71 percent say they stock
    up on an item when it’s a bargain. Fifty-eight percent use coupons
    from the mail or newspapers and 59 percent look in the newspapers for specials.
  • Social networking still has a ways to go: 60 percent of shoppers chose “none” as
    their choice for food matters, 25 percent use Facebook, five percent use
    Twitter and four percent use YouTube.
  • Top concerns include eating healthy (25 percent), chemical additives (13
    percent), and sodium (10 percent). Also, in another question, 79 percent
    say country of origin is important.

National Grocers Association 2011 Consumer Survey Report (PDF)

Discussion Question: Based on the trends predicted by Phil Lempert and expressed in NGA’s consumer survey, in what areas do you think regional and independent supermarkets should focus to better compete with national chains and discounters?

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10 Comments on "NGA: Food Shopping – Big Changes Ahead"

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Ryan Mathews
10 years 2 months ago
Can we talk about reality for just a minute? The average consumer isn’t looking for creative ways to prepare dinner–they are working two jobs to put Big Macs on the table. Social networking is a more or less effective tool for SOME food manufacturers but isn’t making great inroads in mass food marketing. Customers don’t need new nutritional guidelines to feel “empowered” to eat right. They could feel that without the guidelines. What they need is ongoing education and viable options in terms of product, price and time. Seafood from the Gulf? Even BP–not the most pessimistic assessor of the damage they created–believes the food chain won’t be quite right until 2012 and there is lots of science that says they may be overly optimistic. Stevia? Oh, yeah, we’re trying to shorten the ingredient list and give customers a clear, honest choice. Food allergies going down? Well, if we take peanut products out of everything maybe but we have that niggling problem of reported cases of food allergies increasing (especially in some cohorts) significantly thanks… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
10 years 2 months ago

Interesting trends. If the independent and local retailers know their consumers, they probably already know which of these trends apply to their consumers and have already taken steps to meet those needs. That is the kind of knowledge that provides an advantage for the local and independent retailers. The trends are extremely helpful. Knowing which trends apply to your consumers is the key to success.

Anne Howe
10 years 2 months ago

If I were an independent or regional grocer, I would focus on offering local/regional main proteins through counter service with a friendly butcher. I would do my best to offset rising meat prices with featured specials by passing along good pricing deals I get to shoppers as often as I could. Then, I would complement that effort with easy, flavorful recipes using unique products from local/regional food companies with good stories to tell.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean. This is the kind of recipe that a butcher could recommend all day long, using meat options from bison to ground turkey. Plus, keeping the sauce bottles at the butcher counter makes it super easy for the shopper. Make the butcher a personable go-to source of shopper solutions for dinner.

Engaging people. Brands and products with stories. Unique, high quality food. Superior service. I’d build my brand around the special unique elements that are worth being known for around town.

Bernice Hurst
10 years 2 months ago
Customer service goes hand-in-hand with local/regional products and community involvement. Together, they provide opportunities that branches of larger, national retailers cannot hope to match. As for social networking, look at the suggestion that “word of mouth” helps people make food buying decisions. This is one of the oldest and longest lasting forms of social media and, hopefully, won’t ever go away even if it no longer officially comprises part of the current definition of such an activity. I also agree with Ryan’s comments about nutritional guidelines “empowering” people to “make changes in their diets”, increasing their optimism about the quality of Gulf seafood and naive acceptance of yet another new sweetener. Gimme a break. Since when does anyone need government officials to give them permission to choose good, healthy food? At the moment, antagonism to government seems so strong that I almost anticipate a surge in junk food consumption. Also why would anyone suddenly believe in the rapid disappearance of pollution or the latest magically safe sugar alternative? Or start doing what they say in… Read more »
jay mackenzie
jay mackenzie
10 years 2 months ago

Consumers always say things like “service, quality and community involvement are important,” “Where my food comes from and what ingredients are in it matter,” but at the end of the day, it still comes down to price. Today’s consumer EXPECTS quality, service, nutrition, and anything else you can name of that gives you a warm fuzzy, and they EXPECT it all at a sale price, at any location. They will turn their back on any store that has it all except the lowest price for the location that has only some of the above mentioned but HAS the lowest price. IMHO, over the last few decades we have created a spoiled monster out of the consumer and I’m not really sure how to turn this Titanic around.

Ben Ball
10 years 2 months ago

Interesting comments all–and the truth probably lies somewhere between the “Supermarket Guru” and the “Black Monk.” But watch for price to come roaring back with a vengeance as energy costs accelerate the recent rapid rise in food prices. CPI or no CPI–inflation for the little guy is real and it is here, now.

jay mackenzie
jay mackenzie
10 years 2 months ago
On the advice of a fellow independent I will add some stats so I don’t just sound like “sour grapes.” 🙂 Only a few decades ago, Suzy consumer generally shopped at only one grocery store. She new the meat manager by name, and the cashiers new her by name. The term “shopping habit” was popular since it was so hard to break her loyalty. Today, since the Big Box expansion, Suzy consumer now shops between 4.3 conventional grocery stores and numerous non-conventional stores (stores that aren’t known for grocery, but carry a limited amount) every month. The term “cherry picking” has been coined since Suzy jumps from store to store buying advertised specials. As well, the lines between discount banners (once associated with “less quality and service”) and regular banners (thought more as quality and service) have become blurred. And in many cases, Suzy consumer doesn’t always care. Suzy consumer’s problem is that she has been subsidizing a lifestyle she can’t truly afford with cheap borrowing costs and low food prices. She has a high… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
10 years 2 months ago

I think perhaps the biggest shock to the grocery industry moving forward is that consumers will need LESS. Less of everything. This is the convergence of two very ugly trends for the food industry. Aging consumers (who eat less) and financially challenged consumers (who eat less).

My mother used to shop in a grocery store that was 5,000 square feet. I shop in 100,000 square foot store. The only reason for the change was an epic expansion in population coupled with indiscriminate spending behavior. Both are rapidly normalizing.

If I was a large grocery chain, I’d be wondering how to make better use of what will soon be empty square footage.

John Karolefski
10 years 2 months ago

In years to come, outstanding customer service will be the key to success for independents with small-sized stores. Who can resist the friendly and helpful neighborhood grocer who is involved in the local community? Look at all of the boomers heading to retirement? Do they want to plod through a 100,000 sq. ft. store, or would they prefer a small footprint with friendly service?

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
10 years 2 months ago

My question is, are consumers really tired of economizing as indicated in the survey, or is this now the shopping philosophy for more and more consumers?


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