STORE BRANDS, GOURMET, ETHNIC LINES STRONG: FMI

WASHINGTON -- About 93% of shoppers in supermarkets that offer private-label groceries will buy store brands, according to the Food Marketing Institute's recently issued report, "Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes & the Supermarket, 1999."The survey, conducted for FMI here by Research International USA, New York, also found that more than 50% of shoppers are buying gourmet, specialty

WASHINGTON -- About 93% of shoppers in supermarkets that offer private-label groceries will buy store brands, according to the Food Marketing Institute's recently issued report, "Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes & the Supermarket, 1999."

The survey, conducted for FMI here by Research International USA, New York, also found that more than 50% of shoppers are buying gourmet, specialty or ethnic foods if their stores carry them, as well as natural or organic items.

"Since the last Trends was done, General Mills came out with Sunrise cereal, and there has been a significant amount of sales in that," observed J.B. Pratt Jr., owner and chief executive officer of Pratt Foods Supermarkets, Shawnee, Okla. Another major manufacturer's organic product, canned vegetables from Chiquita brand under the name Green Valley, is being tested in Pratt's stores.

"Organics and canned goods can go together, but that's a hard link for our customers to make," Pratt noted. One strategy that helped sales was to stock the Green Valley canned organic vegetables below the fresh organic produce. That helped his customers to make that link, Pratt told SN. He also noted that Chiquita is coming out with a new label, that has "organic" in larger letters. "We need to emphasize the recognition factor more," he said. Soy milk has been moved onto the Value Wall, he added, to tie it into the faster-selling products. "And, we need to do a better job of sampling," Pratt said, to help achieve greater customer recognition. Natural and organic food keeps growing in his stores, Pratt said.

The Trends survey also reported on what consumers would like to see more of, in the way of products and services. For example, more than half of shoppers whose primary supermarket does not offer the following products or services say they would use them if available: nutrition and health information (63%), private label or store brands (60%) and a frequent-shopper program or savings club (70%).

Trends has been tracking shoppers' use of alternative sources for groceries since 1991. This year finds one-quarter of consumers shopping at specialty discount stores for items such as pet supplies, office supplies or over-the-counter drugs or cosmetics at least fairly often. A little more than one in five (22%) shop for groceries at discount stores such as Wal-Mart, Kmart or Target. Warehouse club stores' share continued to decline from a high in 1994. Only 10% of shoppers use this format at least fairly often, and nearly half never use it.

Trends also reported on meal solutions. Frozen side dishes ranked third as a most-used meal solution, with slightly less than 20% of shoppers relying on those products weekly, and almost 50% using them one to three times a month.

Frozen main dishes were a little less popular, and frozen complete dinners followed, with almost 40% of shoppers using them one to three times a month. Seventy percent of shoppers report that they eat dinner out one or more times per week.

Value-added, convenience foods tend to be the most popular meal-solution product, with 67% choosing pre-cut and cleaned vegetables at least once a month.

Other FMI survey statistics show that the amount of money consumers spend on groceries continues to increase, reaching $87 per week on average in 1999. Adjusted for inflation, however, consumers are spending $2 less per week now than five years ago.

Frequent-shopper programs remain popular. The vast majority of shoppers whose stores have a frequent-shopper program use it at least once a month, with two-thirds using it at least once a week.

The average consumer shops at 2.6 stores each month. Most say they do so for convenience and price.