Research: Consumer Shifts in Buying

More than the down-turned economy has changed consumers' buying patterns, but the outlook is good, Dr. Rosita Thomas told seminar attendees at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's 2010 Seminar & Expo here last weekend. In these last few years, shopping venues, communication channels and even the face of America have changed dramatically. In addition to the obvious effects of the

HOUSTON — More than the down-turned economy has changed consumers' buying patterns, but the outlook is good, Dr. Rosita Thomas told seminar attendees at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's 2010 Seminar & Expo here last weekend.

In these last few years, shopping venues, communication channels and even “the face of America” have changed dramatically. In addition to the obvious effects of the economic crisis on consumer behavior, the number of supercenters/discount shopping venues has increased dramatically, more consumers are buying online and communicating via social media, and there's a much more ethnically diverse younger population and a larger older population.

“These changes provide supermarket retailers with additional marketing opportunities,” said Thomas, president of Thomas Opinion Research, Manassas, Va.

She added, however, that supermarket delis should heed consumers' complaints and make corrections.

The good news from the new IDDBA-commissioned study of 2,000 deli and 2,000 bakery respondents interviewed in February and March 2010 is that consumers are feeling less pressured financially — just a little bit.

In 2009, 45% of consumers said it was difficult to make ends meet. Thomas found this spring that that percentage dropped to 31%. And, 31% of respondents said they “have more money to spend than they did two years ago,” a 17% increase over 2009. Also in 2009, 27% said they expected their financial situation to worsen, which Thomas found has fallen to 20% this year.

But, Thomas warned, economy-battered consumers have become more price-conscious and they continue to seek ways to control their spending. What's more, they registered specified complaints about their supermarket delis.

The three top purchase drivers in the deli are freshness, food safety and price, Thomas's research shows.

“This is the first time since we've been doing these studies that freshness overtook convenience as a top priority,” Thomas said. “The percentage of consumers who have experienced problems with their delis in the last three months is significant.”

Most pertain to price but a surprising percentage spoke of freshness-related problems:

Fifty-two percent say their in-store deli prices have increased in the past three months; 30% say there were not enough value-priced choices in the self-service deli section; and 30% say the wait for service at the full-service counter was too long.

Nearly a fifth of consumers were unsatisfied with the freshness of their deli purchases — 16% got a deli purchase that spoiled too quickly and 13% bought product that wasn't fresh.

Only 34% said they would definitely recommend their deli to family and friends.

Since both deli and bakery consumers had freshness on their minds and a hefty percentage had health concerns, Thomas recommended retailers tell customers more about their products, such as with data on products' freshness and offering information about the ingredients and shelf life.