CHICAGO, IL — May 4, 2003 — With the nation at war, a struggling U.S. economy and the threat of terrorism still in the air, American consumers continue to incorporate economizing behaviors in their weekly shopping routines, according to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) report, Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket 2003. The report, released on the opening day of the 2003 FMI Show being held here, also shows that consumer interest in nutrition is increasing, as is their awareness of food safety issues.

Consumers continue to demonstrate money-saving behaviors such as coupon clipping, reviewing advertising specials, comparing prices at different supermarkets, participating in frequent shopper programs and stocking up on sale items. Budget-conscious consumers also report more shopping visits to alternative formats, such as dollar stores and warehouse clubs, in order to maximize the value of their food dollar. As a result, the percentage of food dollars spent at their primary store declined to 82 percent from 89 percent last year.

The report shows that consumers spent an average of $91 per week on groceries for their household, ranging from $52 for one person to $138 for households of five or more people, nearly unchanged from 2001 after adjusting for inflation.
Overall, shoppers remain very satisfied with their primary supermarkets, giving their stores an average rating of 8.1 on a 10-point scale (where one is poor and 10 is excellent). Additionally, two-thirds (66 percent) of shoppers said that they would definitely recommend their primary store to a newcomer in 2003.

The top two features consumers rank as very important in selecting a supermarket are a clean, neat store and high-quality produce. The importance of high-quality meats, normally one of the top three features, declined from 84 percent to 81 percent and fell to fourth place, replaced by low prices at 83 percent. Other features deemed very important by shoppers include use-before/sell-by dates, convenient location, courteous/friendly employees, accurate shelf tags, items on sale or money-saving specials, store layout that makes it easy to shop, personal safety outside the store and fast checkout.

The overall number of weekly shopping visits has remained virtually constant for the past 17 years. A typical shopper reports making 2.2 visits to a supermarket each week, including an average of 1.7 visits to his or her primary supermarket. However, 18 percent of shoppers identified an alterative format retailer as their primary source of food purchases, perhaps indicating a continuing decline in shopper loyalty to traditional supermarkets.

Self-Scanning, Fuel Services, Loyalty Programs and Private-Label Goods Remain Popular

Although low prices and economizing appear to be a priority, the need for convenience, both in meal preparation and in shopping, is still important to today’s shoppers. Consumers’ hectic lifestyles, especially those of working women with children at home, drive a need for features and services that enhance opportunities for one-stop shopping and speed.

Retailers are responding on both fronts.
While fewer than one in five shoppers (18 percent) indicate that their primary grocery store sells gasoline, this service is popular where offered — 60 percent of shoppers use this service at least once per month.

Self-scanning is also rapidly gaining the attention of shoppers. Now offered in 29 percent of supermarkets, this service is well-liked by customers who are eager to speed through the checkout process. Over half of shoppers (53 percent) are using the service at least once per month where it is available to them.

Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of shoppers participate in loyalty card programs at least once a week if their primary store has a program, and 84 percent use them at least once a month.

Other noteworthy findings include:

  • Almost all supermarkets (90 percent) carry private-label or store brands, and usage of these products remains constant from last year at 87 percent. Only five percent of respondents say they never purchase these products. (See new FMI study on private label).
  • Monthly usage of in-store pharmacies remains steady at 29 percent. An additional 19 percent use the pharmacy less than once per month.
  • Ethnic foods are purchased more frequently by younger shoppers. Seven out of 10 shoppers ages 25-39 purchase ethnic foods at least once per month — usage decreases with age to less than four in 10 for shoppers 65 years or older. Moreover, younger shoppers are far more likely to shop in ethnic food specialty stores.
  • Although shoppers report that one-third (34 percent) of their primary stores have a Web site and 16 percent offer online grocery shopping, only three percent of these shoppers indicate have purchased groceries online at any store in the past 12 months.
  • Cooking and eating at home is still popular with consumers, despite a slight decline from last year. Nearly 82 percent of those surveyed prepare and consume their main meals at home at least three times per week, down from 85 percent in 2002. Still, consumers continue to be time-pressed and are looking for solutions to the time spent in meal preparation. The trend toward time-saving convenience foods, from precooked pasta to cereal bars, continues as the food industry churns out new products to meet consumers’ desires to eat on the go.

Shoppers Take Action on Nutrition

With the focus on the country’s obesity epidemic and a sharp increase in persons with diabetes in recent years, shoppers are increasingly paying attention to their own dietary habits. More than half of shoppers (53 percent) say they are very concerned about nutrition. Two-thirds of shoppers admit their diet could be somewhat or a lot healthier. Almost all shoppers (98 percent) say they take some sort of action to ensure their diet is healthy. As in prior years, eating more fruits and vegetables is the most common means consumers believe will ensure a healthy diet.

Almost half of all shoppers (49 percent) report being most concerned about the fat content of the food they eat, followed by sugar (18 percent), salt/sodium content (17 percent), cholesterol levels (13 percent), calories (14 percent), and nutritional value (12 percent).
Consumers are also expressing concern about organic claims. Over half (57 percent) of Trends shoppers indicate that “certified organic” labels are very or somewhat important to them when purchasing a product, and nearly half of these shoppers prefer that organic products be in a separate section from conventional produce in the supermarket.

The primary sources for nutrition information remain the same as last year, though the percentage of shoppers utilizing them has declined. These sources include magazines (from 44 percent to 36 percent), television (from 34 percent to 27 percent) and personal physicians (31 percent to 27 percent). Usage of secondary sources for information about nutrition also has declined: grocery store (from 24 percent to 13 percent), friends/family (from 29 percent to 19 percent), newspapers (from 28 percent to 22 percent), books (from 26 percent to 20 percent) and the Internet (21 percent to 20 percent).

Food Safety Awareness Grows

Consumer confidence that food in the supermarket is completely or mostly safe edged slightly downward to 79 percent, from 82 percent in 2002, possibly due to increased news coverage of food security and food safety issues. Similarly, more shoppers (74 percent, up from 72 percent in 2002) consider food tampering a serious health risk.

With the establishment of a federal Department of Homeland Security, more consumers may be looking to the government for safety assurance. Trends data show that slightly more consumers have shifted food safety responsibility to government organizations (26 percent, up from 22 percent); however, a larger number of consumers (30 percent) still place the primary responsibility upon themselves. Approximately one-fifth indicate that they rely most on retailers (17 percent) and manufacturers (21 percent) to ensure the safety of the food that they purchase.

Along with other safety measures, irradiated beef is now of greater interest to consumers — 57 percent now say they would be interested in this as a food safety solution. However, only five percent of consumers report awareness of irradiated beef at their store and only two percent have purchased this product.

Data Tabulation

Data for the study was collected from 2,000 telephone interviews conducted in January 2003. 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 2003, is available for $40 to FMI retailer/wholesaler members, $89 for FMI associate members and $105 for nonmembers, with multiple copy discounts. Contact the FMI Store at (202) 220-0723 or for details.