SOME SECRET REVELATIONS FROM MY BRIEF LIFE AS DONNA

Hello my name is Donna.I'm a 38-year-old mother, married for 16 years with two daughters, ages 15 and 12. My husband is a police sergeant.You say that description doesn't match my photo? You're wondering if I sustained a blow to the head that messed with my memory?Actually, I took on another persona temporarily a few weeks ago as part of a shopping exercise sponsored by a trade association. The point

Hello my name is Donna.I'm a 38-year-old mother, married for 16 years with two daughters, ages 15 and 12. My husband is a police sergeant.

You say that description doesn't match my photo? You're wondering if I sustained a blow to the head that messed with my memory?

Actually, I took on another persona temporarily a few weeks ago as part of a shopping exercise sponsored by a trade association. The point was to see food shopping through the eyes of someone else. It was quite a revelation. Suddenly, I was Donna: a female, a parent (I don't have kids in real life), and the prime shopper for my family.

I mention it now because this week's edition of SN helps us see some important topics through the eyes of consumers. Lots of them. A large portion of the Retail section is devoted to consumer opinions gathered through survey research, including an exclusive survey on consumer reaction to irradiated and genetically modified foods. Other surveys shed light on consumer thoughts about functional drinks, organics, in-store technology and seasonal decorations. The string of stories begins on Page 10.

I wonder how Donna would have responded to those surveys. I took on her identity during an exercise sponsored by CIES, The Food Business Forum, which hosted a bus tour of four Connecticut food retailers for attendees at its Management Development Program (MDP) Annual Congress in New York. Each person was assigned one of five customer profiles. I wasn't assigned one, so I chose Donna.

According to that profile, I need to prepare dinner at different times for each family member. Moreover, my younger daughter just became a vegetarian, and she is increasingly interested in knowing where her food is sourced. The profile also said my family is now fairly comfortable financially, but I'm still influenced by all the careful budgeting that was necessary in my early years of marriage.

So I had a lot to think about as I walked through the four stores: a Costco, Wal-Mart discount store, Stew Leonard's and Wild Oats. I was very excited that Wild Oats was full of solutions for my daughter's new eating passion because I was worried she would starve to death. The store's flier even promoted "Vegetarian Month."

Stew Leonard's had lots of prepared-meal choices for my family, and even had a low-carb meals section to help reduce our waistlines. The Wal-Mart wasn't a supercenter, so the food choices were limited. But given my price focus, I was attracted to all the signs blaring roll-back food prices (not to mention the $39.74 DVD player).

Finally, Costco worked for my lifestyle on two levels: price savings and opportunity to find value-added, quick meals that would serve the whole family, such as "flank steak with feta and spinach" in the refrigerated case.

Everyone in the food industry should try to stretch themselves by becoming Donna, or someone else, for a few hours or a day. But I'll admit I was very happy to return to myself because I was terrified about having to prepare all those dinners.