STUDY SHOWS SUPERMARKETS NO LONGER TOP OF MIND

NEW YORK - Many consumers no longer think of traditional supermarkets as a primary shopping destination, according to a new study from WSL Strategic Retail, based here.The study, conducted via the Internet over the summer among 1,503 adult consumers, found that 21% of shoppers did not list supermarkets among the retail formats they had shopped in the last three months. When further prompted by a question

NEW YORK - Many consumers no longer think of traditional supermarkets as a primary shopping destination, according to a new study from WSL Strategic Retail, based here.

The study, conducted via the Internet over the summer among 1,503 adult consumers, found that 21% of shoppers did not list supermarkets among the retail formats they had shopped in the last three months. When further prompted by a question asking where they had purchased food and groceries, however, 67% of those who said they had not shopped in a supermarket actually listed supermarkets as a place they bought such items.

"If I were a supermarket operator, that would scare the pants off of me," said Wendy Liebmann, founder and president, WSL Strategic Retail. "Between the impact of the clubs and the supercenters and all the other places where people buy their groceries, supermarkets are just not top of mind for a lot of people."

Liebmann said this was the first time her company, which provides marketing consulting services, has probed deeper into the respondent's answers about where they buy their food in WSL's ongoing "How America Shops" surveys. She said WSL had noticed changes in how consumers used the supermarket in the company's MegaTrends study, and decided to find out where those consumers who said they hadn't shopped in supermarkets had actually purchased their groceries.

"Psychologically, people don't think this is a key place for them to shop, or they've redefined the way they shop," she said. "Supermarkets may be the place people go when they ask, 'What's for dinner tonight?' But a lot of people don't really consider that their big stock-up trip. Whipping in just to get the chicken for dinner or the potato salad or the pizza or whatever is not the way people used to shop in supermarkets."

The How America Shops survey also showed that supermarkets are attracting a demographic that is more white and more middle- to upper-class than the customer base that shops at other formats.

Caucasians and Hispanics were much more likely to say they had shopped in a supermarket in the last three months - 81% and 79%, respectively - than African Americans, more of whom said they had shopped in mass merchandisers, drug stores and dollar stores than supermarkets.

Supermarket shoppers also tend to skew older and higher-income than other retail channels, the survey found. Among consumers age 18-34, more said they had shopped in a mass merchandiser than a supermarket (78% vs. 74%) in the past three months. That compares with 85% of respondents over age 55 that said they had shopped in a supermarket in that time frame.

Lower-income consumers (earning less than $50,000 annually) were also more likely to have shopped in a mass merchandiser than a supermarket (76% vs. 72%), while those making more than $100,000 annually were overwhelmingly supermarket shoppers.

"More lower-income and African American shoppers don't necessarily see the supermarket as the primary place they go," Liebmann said. "The supermarket shopper has kind of become what this country used to look like - white and middle class. As the country has aged, a lot of those people stayed with the supermarket, and a new, younger, more mass-market, ethnically diverse group of people didn't."

She noted that although supermarkets are capturing their share of the baby boomers, more and more of those people "are heading off to the specialty formats as well."

While some supermarket operators - Liebmann cited Wegmans Food Stores, Rochester, N.Y., as an example - have successfully targeted this upscale demographic, others may be failing in their efforts to attract a broader spectrum of shoppers.

"They think they are still driving in all Americans, and they are absolutely not," she said. "Now the supermarket shopper has a new face, and it's a very distinct profile. Unless you are very conscious of that as a retailer, you could find yourself missing the opportunity very quickly."

Where have you shopped in the last three months?

Channel: Total; Male; Female; 18-34; 35-54; 55+; Hispanic; African American

Supermarket: 79%; 77%; 81%; 74%; 79%; 85%; 72%; 80%; 90%; 81%; 79%; 64%

Mass merchandiser: 75; 69; 82; 78; 76; 71; 76; 75; 73; 76; 72; 70

Drug store: 69; 66; 72; 67; 68; 74; 66; 69; 76; 70; 66; 72

Home improvement store: 56; 57; 54; 49; 58; 60; 45; 61; 66; 59; 52; 45

C-store: 53; 54; 52; 62; 51; 46; 56; 52; 50; 54; 54; 57

Dollar store: 51; 44; 58; 51; 54; 46; 59; 47; 42; 49; 52; 65

Supercenter; 45; 44; 46; 48; 43; 45; 46; 47; 37; 46; 38; 45

Enclosed mall; 44; 40; 48; 52; 39; 42; 40; 47; 47; 44; 51; 42

Strip mall: 34; 33; 35; 39; 33; 29; 28; 37; 41; 35; 31; 28

Warehouse club: 43; 44; 42; 38; 45; 49; 33; 48; 57; 45; 54; 32

Online: 38; 39; 37; 42; 34; 39; 30; 41; 50; 38; 33; 32

Discount clothing store; 24; 20; 29; 30; 24; 17; 18; 28; 31; 22; 28; 37

Catalog: 18; 14; 22; 14; 17; 23; 15; 20; 18; 18; 19; 13

TV Shopping: 8; 5; 11; 7; 7; 9; 6; 9; 10; 7; 12; 7

Source: WSL Strategic Retail, based on an online survey of 1,503 adults

Where did you buy food and groceries in the last three months?

(Among shoppers who at first said they had not shopped in a supermarket)

Channel: Total; Male; Female; 18-34; 35-54; 55+; Hispanic; African American

Supermarket: 67%; 67%; 66%; 69%; 64%; 67%; 63%; 71%; 69%; 68%; 54%; 69%;

Supercenter: 56; 55; 58; 55; 63; 46; 57; 56; 54; 60; 62; 46

Warehouse club: 29; 31; 25; 27; 29; 33; 22; 37; 23; 28; 49; 33

Drug store: 18; 19; 16; 16; 19; 17; 16; 16; 38; 18; 18; 15

Farmers' market: 18; 19; 18; 17; 15; 30; 16; 21; 19; 16; 26; 24

Mass merchandiser: 15; 17; 13; 18; 15; 9; 20; 10; 15; 14; 5; 22

C-store: 13; 13; 13; 15; 15; 4; 12; 14; 12; 12; 13; 13

Specialty store*: 11; 13; 7; 11; 10; 9; 7; 14; 15; 9; 13; 15

Other: 7; 9; 5; 8; 7; 4; 9; 6; 0; 5; 13; 10

Online: 3; 3; 2; 2; 4; 2; 1; 6; 0; 3; 8; 3

Catalog: 1; 2; 1; 2; 1; 4; 1; 2; 8; 1; 0; 3

*Such as Whole Foods, GNC or Wild Oats

Source: WSL Strategic Retail, based on an online survey of 1,503 adults