CHICAGO, IL — May 5, 2002 — Still concerned about the U.S. economy, American consumers continue to incorporate economizing behaviors in their weekly grocery shopping, according to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Report, Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes & the Supermarket, 2002. The report — released on the opening day of the 2002 FMI Show being held here — also shows that, along with a strong desire for value, consumers are seeking healthier mealtime solutions and more variety from food retailers.

Despite a decrease in spending averages for both the household grocery bill and per-person expenditures, the report shows that consumers are spending more at their primary store and that their overall satisfaction with supermarkets remains high. Consumers are also spending less on restaurant takeout and are expressing more interest in preparing home-cooked meals at least three times per week — a significant change from previous years.

Consumers also express a high level of confidence in the safety of food purchased at supermarkets and they are showing an increased interest in irradiated food products. As with nutrition, most consumers feel that they are primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of the food they consume and many follow food safety practices at home.

Supermarket Satisfaction Remains High, Shoppers Seek New Store Features

Trends 2002 finds that shopper satisfaction with grocery store performance remains high, with 77 percent giving their supermarket a rating of 8 or higher (on a scale of 10). And 67 percent of these customers would definitely recommend their store to a newcomer, a slight dip from the 70 percent recorded last year.

The top three features Trends consumers deem important when choosing a primary supermarket are a clean, neat store; high-quality fruits and vegetables; and high-quality meat. All of these features, which retained the same relative ranking from the 2001 survey, were identified by shoppers to be “very important” in store selection.

Low prices moved up the scale to score a tie for the third most important feature factors, increasing to 84 percent from 77 percent; and the importance of a fast checkout declined after nearly a decade of steady increases.

Other key considerations include use-before/sell-by dates, money-saving specials, convenient store layout, fast checkout and personal safety outside the store.

Notable trends in supermarket features:

  • More than eight-in-10 (83 percent) of shoppers say that a fresh meat department with a butcher is very or somewhat important. Nearly one-third of these consumers also report that meat packaged at a central location outside of the store — case ready — is not as good as meat packaged at the store, whereas only 6 percent believe case-ready meat is better.
  • Monthly use of in-store pharmacies increased by seven points to 28 percent. An additional 19 percent use the pharmacy less than once per month. Supermarket pharmacy users report very high levels of satisfaction with this service.
  • Almost all supermarkets carry private-label or store brands, and use of these products increased five points to 87 percent. Only 4 percent of respondents say they never purchase these products.
  • Eighty-four percent report the availability of ethnic foods, consistent with 2001.
  • Nearly eight-in-10 (79 percent) report that their primary store offers gourmet foods, up from 70 percent.
  • Organic or natural foods are carried by 71 percent of stores, up from 67 percent.
  • The availability of a self-checkout service increased to 25 percent, from 16 percent in the past year. More significantly, 49 percent of consumers surveyed use this service when it is available.
  • More than half (54 percent) of shoppers surveyed use gasoline services at their supermarket when available, another indication that consumers strongly prefer a one-stop shopping experience.

Use of Economizing Behaviors and Alternative Formats Continues

American consumers continue to explore methods for reducing the cost of the weekly grocery bill. Key savings strategies employed by shoppers:

  • Looking in newspaper for grocery specials
  • Participation in a frequent shopper program
  • Stocking up on sale items
  • Using manufacturer and retailer cents-off coupons
  • Comparing prices at different supermarkets

Interestingly, one economizing behavior that has declined is meal planning before grocery shopping. Shoppers using this savings strategy dropped nine percentage points to 19 percent.

Although Trends finds that shoppers spent more at their primary supermarket in the past year, the report also notes that shoppers continue to include alternative sources for fulfilling at least a portion of their grocery list and for saving money. Visits to warehouse clubs continued to increase, increasing from 14 to 16 percent. Younger consumers are using this format most often — 24 percent of shoppers under 25 report shopping in warehouse clubs, up eight percentage points in just the past year.

Other alternative formats sought by consumers include discount stores that carry grocery items, used by 28 percent (unchanged from 2001), and low-price/no frills grocery stores, used by 10 percent of consumers, a dip of three percentage points.

Shoppers Express More Concern for Nutrition

In a nation obsessed with obesity and an aging population, American shoppers are expressing a growing concern about nutrition, according to the report. Shoppers recognize that their diets could be healthier and that they themselves hold the key to ensuring a nutritionally sound diet.

Half of shoppers report being “very concerned” about the nutritional content of what they eat, up from 46 percent in 2000 — the last time this attitude was measured. Fat content is the top concern by consumers, followed by sugar, salt/sodium, cholesterol levels, nutritional value and calories.

Seventy percent of shoppers admit that their diet could be somewhat or a lot healthier, according to Trends, up from 68 percent in 2000. Those most likely to believe that their diets could be healthier include women who work 20 or more hours per week, households with children and consumers under age 50. Older consumers are no exception, though, with 56 percent of those 65 or older admitting that their diets could be healthier, up from 43 percent in 2000.

Most shoppers believe that the food they eat makes a difference in their health. Nearly six in 10 shoppers feel they can greatly reduce the risk of certain diseases by eating healthfully, and three-quarters believe that eating healthfully is a better way to manage illness than taking medication.

The report suggests that concerns about nutrition and food quality may have sharply increased interest in organic foods. According to FMI’s Shopping for Health, 2001, 20 percent of shoppers would purchase organic foods if available in their grocery stores. These shoppers are most likely to purchase produce (34 percent); followed by cereals, breads and pastas (21 percent); and meat or poultry (15 percent).

Eating Out Declines, Cooking at Home Increases

Eating main meals away from the home declined in the past year, due mostly to economic concerns, and consumers are showing a greater inclination to prepare home-cooked meals.
Eighty-five percent of Trends consumers report preparing home-cooked meals at least three times per week, a sharp increase from 74 percent recorded in 2001. These consumers also report serving meals from leftovers more often and a decline in the consumption of meals outside of the home, particularly at fast-food restaurants.

Shoppers report eating their evening meal away from home 1.3 times per week, compared with 1.4 times per week in 2001 and 1.5 times per week in 2000. Younger shoppers eat away from home more often than older shoppers, but they seem to be doing it less. Twenty-one percent report eating away from home three or more times per week, compared with 39 percent in 2000. Not surprisingly, people from smaller households eat out more often than those from larger ones.

Seventeen percent of respondents say the supermarket is their most frequent source of takeout meals, just behind fast-food restaurants (25 percent) but moving ahead of standard restaurants (14 percent).   Working women tend to purchase supermarket take-out most often, whereas low income households, younger adults (aged 25-39) and women working less than 20 hours per week seem to have the least interest in this option.

Shoppers Remain Confident in Retailer Food Safety Efforts

The vast majority of consumers — 81 percent — in the survey express a high level of confidence in the safety of the food purchased at their supermarkets. These consumers also believe that they are primarily responsible for food safety, although this responsibility is shared with retailers, manufacturers and government agencies. When food safety problems occur, shoppers believe that they are most likely to occur in manufacturer/processing plants (36 percent), in restaurants (19 percent) and in the home (12 percent).

Concerns over food safety may have renewed interest in irradiated food, according to the report, with 53 percent of consumers reporting an interest in purchasing irradiated products. The report also notes that a heightened awareness of irradiation, due largely to news reports of irradiated mail during the anthrax cases in late 2001, may have enhanced consumer interest in irradiation as a food safety tool.

Supermarket Shopper Segments Define the Marketplace

A new analysis for Trends 2002 identifies customer segments according to their grocery shopping habits, use of various store services, eating practices and weekly grocery expenditures. The report divides shoppers into three distinct segments, each representing about one-third of the marketplace:

Economizers: Representing 33 percent of shoppers, this group is the most budget-conscious and usually comes from lower-income households. They are most likely to plan a weekly menu, collect coupons and check for sales. They are also the oldest segment — 53 percent are 50 or older — and are most likely to be female.

Carefree Spenders: This group, 39 percent of shoppers, are the least price-conscious and least likely to compare prices and use coupons. They spend the most per week on groceries despite not having the largest households. They are more inclined to purchase high-margin premium items and to dine out at full-service restaurants.

Time-Challenged: The shoppers in this group, 28 percent of the marketplace, are obsessed with convenience due to their hectic, multi-task lifestyles. They have the largest households and are most likely to have pre-teen children. They are, however, still concerned about saving money and cutting grocery costs; but instead of using coupons and checking for specials, they are more likely to use a frequent shopper cards and in-store services, such as a pharmacy.

The report defines the economic importance of each segment to the retailer and offers strategies for effectively marketing to each group.

Data Tabulation

Data for the study was collected from 2,002 telephone interviews conducted in January 2002. The households contacted were selected by a procedure known as random digit dialing (RDD). Each respondent was required to have been a head of household with the primary responsibility for food shopping and to have shopped in the previous two weeks.

Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket 2001, is available for $40 to FMI members, $89 to associate members and $105 to non-members, with multiple copy discounts. Contact the FMI Research Department at (202) 452-8444 for more information.