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FMI SURVEYS SOUTH AMERICAN CONSUMER HABITS

WASHINGTON -- South American consumers are looking for low prices, safe food and clean stores when they select a market, according to surveys published by the Food Marketing Institute here.The three surveys -- Trends in Argentina, Trends in Brazil, and Trends in Chile -- were a collaboration between the FMI and the Association of Latin American Supermarkets and received funding from Coca-Cola.Answers

WASHINGTON -- South American consumers are looking for low prices, safe food and clean stores when they select a market, according to surveys published by the Food Marketing Institute here.

The three surveys -- Trends in Argentina, Trends in Brazil, and Trends in Chile -- were a collaboration between the FMI and the Association of Latin American Supermarkets and received funding from Coca-Cola.

Answers to a questionnaire were elicited through door-to-door interviews of randomly selected households in statistically representative neighborhoods. In Argentina and Brazil, 800 households were surveyed, while in Chile 400 were interviewed. All interviewing took place in May and June 1998.

The survey found numerous similarities among the consumers of all three nations. In all three, the majority of households (63% in Argentina, 79% in Brazil and 84% in Chile) buy fresh bread daily. On the other hand, restaurant meals aren't major competition for home cooking. In the average month, 72% of Argentines, 51% of Brazilians and 47% of Chileans said they did not dine out a single time. (In the United States, in contrast, 70% of consumers told an FMI survey they dine out at least once a week.)

But the survey also revealed many differences among the three countries, including the popularity of supermarkets themselves. In Chile, 79% of households consider a supermarket the primary place where they buy food. The comparable figure for Brazil is 52% and for Argentina a mere 46%. In all three countries, hypermarkets are popular alternatives to supermarkets. Other alternatives include small grocery stores in Argentina and Chile, or specialty stores (bakeries, butcher shops and produce markets) in Brazil.

The cost of a week's groceries also varies considerably from country to country. The average Argentine household spends $79 a week for food, the average Brazilian household spends only $40 and the average Chilean household spends $57. (The U.S. average is $87.)

Overall, the survey portrayed Argentine and Brazilian consumers as similarly haunted by economic problems, particularly unemployment, and consequently extremely price conscious. Chilean consumers were more confident and more focused on issues of food safety and store cleanliness.

Here follow some brief country-by-country highlights.

ARGENTINA: Argentine consumers said they were concerned with economic issues, with 53% telling the survey unemployment was the most important issue facing the country.

These concerns were reflected in what Argentines said they look for in selecting a place to buy food. The most important factor, said 46%, was low prices. Other major factors included food safety, a clean shop, a wide variety of products and high quality meat and produce.

Consumers who shop at hypermarkets and supermarkets tended to give their stores a rating of excellent in most of these categories except low prices. For example, while food safety was a major concern, 87% said they were completely or mostly confident the food they bought was safe.

Items that Argentines were most likely to buy at a supermarket include packaged food products, detergents and cleaners and housewares. Items they are more likely to buy in a specialized store include fresh bread, fruits and vegetables.

While many supermarkets offered such services as photo developing, automatic teller machines and dry cleaning, few consumers took advantage of them. Also, frequent-shopper programs were neither widely available nor widely used.

Nearly three out of four consumers said they never ate out, and even members of the highest social classes said they ate out fewer than three times in an average month. And yet, home-meal replacement had gained at least a toe-hold on the Argentine public. More than half the consumers said their stores offered prepared meals and almost half said they have bought them, although these purchases were not frequent.

BRAZIL: Economic issues were also of major concern in Brazil, where 45% of those surveyed said unemployment was the most important problem facing their country.

And Brazilians, like Argentines, were on the lookout for low prices when selecting a place to buy groceries. Other considerations included food safety and good quality meat and produce. Again, like Argentines, consumers were satisfied with most of what they found in their supermarkets except for the prices. For example, 86% said food safety was an important factor in selecting a stores, and 75% said they were completely or mostly confident the food they bought was safe.

Fresh bread, fruits and vegetables were usually not purchased at supermarkets. Three-quarters of consumers said they go to bakeries for bread, and two-thirds said they generally go to small markets for fresh produce.

Popular items usually bought at supermarkets included pasta, rice and packaged and frozen food products.

Many Brazilian supermarkets and hypermarkets offer a range of services, including restaurants, photo developing, flower shops and automatic teller machines, but consumers said they rarely used them. Few stores had frequent-shopper programs, and very few customers participated in them.

Restaurant meals were a rarity for most Brazilians, half of those surveyed saying they never dined out. Members of the highest social classes, however, said they dined out nearly four times in an average month. Prepared meals were neither widely available nor widely purchased.

CHILE: A focus on social issues was apparent.

In contrast with their Argentine and Brazilian neighbors, Chilean consumers were less concerned about unemployment (only 10% said it was the most important issue facing their country) than a range of social issues including crime (27%), poverty, drugs and health-care costs (all 11%). Other major concerns included inflation and protection of the environment (both 10%).

Probably as a result, more consumers said they considered food safety (81% of those surveyed) and a clean store (78%) more important than low prices (73%). Consumers tended to be satisfied with safety and cleanliness, but felt their stores could do a better job cutting prices.

Chileans also resembled their neighbors in what they do and don't buy at supermarkets. Fresh bread is usually bought at small grocery stories, while fresh produce, fish and seafood and cut flowers are purchased at markets.

Food items usually bought at supermarkets included frozen and packaged foods, milk, eggs, non-alcoholic beverages, meat and cheese. Nonfood items included detergents and cleaning products and health and beauty products. The survey noted that, with the exception of milk, these items tended not to require customers to make multiple weekly trips to the supermarket.

Automatic teller machines were the only service widely available in Chilean supermarkets and hypermarkets, and they were not frequently used. Dining out was a special event for most Chileans; nearly half said they never ate at restaurants.

Prepared meals, however, were relatively popular, at least by South American standards, and could possibly be the wave of the future. Most consumers said their supermarkets offered them, and 43% said they had bought them. Among consumers between 18 and 24 years old, this figure leaped to 56%.