Frequency of Food-Shopping Trips Declines

Consumers are shopping in supermarkets less often than ever and increasingly prefer the experience of warehouse clubs and natural/organic formats, according to research presented at the Food Marketing Institute Show here last week. The frequency of supermarket trips has fallen from 2.2 per week two years ago to 1.9 per week this year, according to FMI's annual report on consumer behavior and

CHICAGO — Consumers are shopping in supermarkets less often than ever and increasingly prefer the experience of warehouse clubs and natural/organic formats, according to research presented at the Food Marketing Institute Show here last week.

The frequency of supermarket trips has fallen from 2.2 per week two years ago to 1.9 per week this year, according to FMI's annual “Trends” report on consumer behavior and attitudes.

“As people have changed to shopping at different formats, it has affected the way they shop,” said Michael Sansolo, senior vice president, FMI. “They do stock-up trips, and then they do fill-in trips once or twice a week — they are not shopping as much as they did two, three or four years ago.”

When consumers were asked where they shopped for food in the last 30 days, 87% mentioned a supermarket — the lowest level “in memory,” FMI said. In 2005, 93% mentioned a supermarket, and in 2006 the figure was 90%. Supercenters were the second most frequently mentioned destination, at 44%, up from 41% in 2006 and 38% in 2005.

The Trends study showed ongoing declines in market share for supermarkets in several categories, including cereal, frozen food, and meat and poultry.

One of the keys to this behavior shift may lie in another statistic gleaned from the Trends survey: Consumers said the “overriding factor” that determines where they shop for food is price. Although consumers say location, high-quality meat and produce, and a clean, neat store are “very important” when deciding where to buy groceries, 31% named price as the single most important factor, followed by location at 13%. Having items on sale or money-saving specials was No. 3 at 10%.

“Even those consumers who are well off are looking to save a little money,” Sansolo said. “There are some strange dichotomies going on: People are looking for balance — they want low prices, plus so many other things.”

In addition, customer satisfaction with the supermarket has declined. On a scale of 1 to 10, shoppers gave their primary food shopping destination a score of 7.9 in terms of their satisfaction level, vs. a score of 8.1 in 2005. Customers who said they were loyal to club stores and natural/organic formats received higher scores — above 8.0 — while supermarkets and supercenters were below that level.

Sansolo attributed the decline in part to the series of food safety issues that have weakened consumer confidence in the food chain during the last nine months.

Quoting a Wharton School of Business professor, Sansolo said, “You could make the argument that the shopper is beginning to question how good we are.”

The study also found that consumers much prefer their main food shopping trip each week to the fill-in trips they make. Sixty percent of shoppers said they enjoy their main shopping trip, vs. 49% who enjoy their fill-in trip.

Weighing in supermarkets' favor is the issue of consumers' growing concerns over healthy eating. Almost all — 92% — shoppers in the Trends survey said they believe eating a home-cooked meal is healthier than eating out at restaurants.

“This is a way to win them back,” said Sansolo.

The survey also showed that fat is the label ingredient that consumers are most likely to be wary of when choosing what products to buy. Fifty-seven percent of consumers said fat (including trans fat and saturated fat) was the label ingredient that mattered most, up from 51% a year ago.

“It doesn't matter what kind of fats they are — saturated fat, trans fat, unsaturated fat — consumers just don't want them,” Sansolo said.

At the same time, consumers are looking for whole grains on the ingredient label more than they used to, with 47% citing it as an important ingredient to look for, vs. 39% a year ago.

Consumers tend not to follow a strict diet plan, however. More than half — 62% — said they make up their own diet plan, vs. 15% who are on a structured plan.

Sansolo also cautioned retailers to be conscious of the country's evolving family structure. As the percentage of traditional households declines, so does consumers' need for a traditional shopping experience.

“This raises the question of whether you have the right products,” he said. “Are your products for Ozzie and Harriet? We need to have products for one-person households and single-parent households.”

Supermarket operators also have the opportunity to promote meals at home as being “family time,” Sansolo said.

How Consumers Choose Where to Shop

Low prices 31%
Convenient location 13%
Sales/specials 9%
High-quality produce 7%
High-quality meat 6%
Source: FMI Trends 2007

Time Spent Cooking

COOKING TIME WEEKDAY WEEKEND
Less than 5 minutes 2% 4%
5-15 minutes 6% 7%
15-30 minutes 32% 23%
30-60 minutes 46% 47%
More than 60 minutes 12% 20%
Source: FMI Trends 2007

Consumers React to Higher Energy Costs

Cook more/eat out less 69%
Buy fewer luxury items 65%
Eat more leftovers 62%
Buy more store brands 56%
Eat out less expensively 45%
Source: FMI Trends 2007

What Drives New Product Trial

Price 63%
Nutrition label 47%
Health claims 31%
Brand name 23%
Organic claims 14%
Source: FMI Trends 2007