IMPATIENCE IS REGISTERING

News & Solutions national shopper studye should be a top priority of America's supermarkets, according to the findings of an annual Supermarket News national consumer survey conducted for the third consecutive year.The nationwide study, administered by America's Research Group, Charleston, S.C., showed a surge in popularity among alternative food sources like drug stores, convenience store, discount

News & Solutions national shopper study

e should be a top priority of America's supermarkets, according to the findings of an annual Supermarket News national consumer survey conducted for the third consecutive year.

The nationwide study, administered by America's Research Group, Charleston, S.C., showed a surge in popularity among alternative food sources like drug stores, convenience store, discount stores and membership warehouse clubs.

And shopper impatience may be the cause, according to Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of America's Research Group.

"We know from our extensive research that consumers are shopping fewer stores overall," Beemer said. "When they make their purchases, they're even more impatient than ever before to pay and leave the store."

Additionally, he said, in past research consumers favored two supermarket checkout lines for purchases of 10 items or less, open during peak shopping times. "Now they're telling us they want at least four express lanes -- two for 10 items or less and two for 20 items or less. And they want them open all the time," he said.

Consumers have a strong desire to shop supermarkets for their convenience, price and selection, Beemer added, "but they won't hesitate to shop alternative stores."

Indeed, "the failure of some supermarkets to provide fast checkout is the reason convenience stores survive and thrive in America today," he said.

The No. 1 supermarket criteria in the minds of three in 10 of America's consumers remains low pricing, according to survey. The importance of low pricing has shown a steady rise.

In 1994, 24.2% of those interviewed listed low pricing at the top of their list of ideal supermarket offerings. Last year 26.6% gave low pricing the No. 1 ranking, and this year 29.9% agreed that low pricing was most important.

The survey also showed that more than half of shoppers nationally are now more likely to shop a supermarket attached to discount store, a jump of 5.8% over last year's results.

More than three in four of those surveyed say they are spending at least as much at their local supermarkets as they were a year ago, up slightly from last year's 73.7% reading. And 30.9% predicted they would be buying more from supermarkets in the coming year, a gain of 5.1% from the 1995 results.

But shoppers showed a strong tendency to explore other retail outlets when shopping for food purchases, the survey found. Discount stores, drug stores and convenience stores in particular showed significant improvement as alternative food sources. When asked at which stores they were shopping more for food now compared with a year ago, those interviewed gave the following responses (by percentage of responses; multiple responses allowed): [chart]

1995 1996

Supermarkets 41.2% 43.0%

Drug Stores 7.0% 12.9%

Warehouse Clubs 19.0% 23.8%

Convenience Stores 7.4% 14.3%

Discount Stores 25.4% 31.3%

Meat Markets 15.5% 17.6%

Vegetable Stands 22.9% 32.8%

Additionally, the pace of food shopping at all available locations is expected to increase in the coming year, the survey shows. When asked if they expected to be buying more food from various stores in the coming year, the results were as follows: [chart]

1995 1996

Supermarkets 25.8% 30.9%

Drug Stores 3.6% 8.2%

Warehouse Clubs 14.8% 19.6%

Convenience Stores 5.2% 8.6%

Discount Stores 16.9% 25.2%

Meat Markets 13.2% 14.2%

Vegetable Stands 20.6% 24.6%

These results should be viewed with caution, Beemer warned. "We know from years of talking with consumers that many often measure shopping in terms of units, not dollars spent," he said.

Despite the increases across the board in patronizing various food outlets, more than one in three shoppers say they expect to spend the same amount on food purchases in the coming year as they have in the past. Those who predicted they will be spending more for food accounted for 39.9% of the survey, a drop of 3.9% from last year's findings.

Among the nearly four in 10 who say they will spend more on food in the coming year, 37.4% cited family size as the No. 1 reason for the increase. This number matched the results of last year's data. Rising prices again ranked as the second leading cause of increased food spending, cited by 16.8% of respondents. The percentage of those who felt price increases would drive up their food bills was down slightly from last year. Changing diet again scored as the third greatest reason given for increased spending on food over the coming year, mentioned by 11.3% of the survey. In 1995, 13.7% said a change in diet would account for higher food bills.

Of those who expected to spend less on food in the coming year, change in family size was given as the No. 1 cause, at 42.7%. The 1995 survey showed 44.1% citing changing family size as the reason for decreased food spending. More than one in four said changing diet would lead to lower food costs in the coming year, up from last year's 21.4%.

In addition to offering low prices and fast checkout, shoppers want their favorite market to be convenient to home or work and provide a large selection from which to choose, the survey found. Speedy checkout showed the biggest gain in consumer popularity, rising from 11.2% in 1995 to 18.4% of the responses this year. The question concerning the qualities of the ideal supermarket in the minds of consumers has been included in all three national surveys, dating back to 1994. This telephone survey of 1,000 consumers nationwide was conducted March 20 to 25, 1996, from America's Research Group's offices in Charleston. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.3%.

How Consumers Rate the Ideal Food Store Qualities [chart]

1994 1995 1996

Low Prices 24.2% 26.6% 29.9%

Convenient Location 21.2% 21.4% 21.8%

Fast Checkout 14.3% 11.2% 18.4%

Selection 11.6% 19.4% 11.5%

Friendly 15.5% 7.4% 6.4%

Great Specials 8.4% 9.2% 6.1%

Reputation 4% 4.7% 5.4%

The Shoppers Speak [chart]

Consumers say they are buying more food/grocery items from supermarkets, compared with the year before.

1995 1996

More 41.2% 43.9%

Same 32.5% 34.1%

Less 26.3% 22.9%

Source: America's Research Group Survey conducted for SN.