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Online grocery has less pull with older shoppers

Poll: Service fees, bad product cited as key barriers

Only a small percentage of older U.S. consumers buy groceries online, and many of those who do are infrequent purchasers, a survey from the International Food Information Council and AARP foundations finds.

Of 1,004 Americans ages 50 and older polled, just 17% said they have ever ordered groceries to be picked up from a store, and 16% have bought groceries online to be delivered. Similarly, only 17% reported they’ve ordered food from a prepared meal delivery service, and 10% have done so from a meal kit delivery service.

Consumers in this age bracket mostly use their computer to order groceries or meals online, as opposed to a mobile device. Fifty-five percent said they purchase groceries online for delivery and 34% do so for pickup at the store less than once a month, according to the study. That frequency of online ordering was 41% for prepared meal delivery and 40% for meal kit delivery.

Americans over 50 go to brick-and-mortar stores for their groceries far more often. Of respondents, 90% said they shop at a supermarket at least once a month. Seventy-one percent indicated that they visit a superstore and 46% go to a warehouse or discount club once a month for groceries.

“While the overall number of Americans over 50 who grocery shop online is relatively low, the findings can help us forecast future trends as technology use becomes even more common among older adults and other age groups,” Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, vice president of research and partnerships at the IFIC Foundation, said in a statement.

Why aren’t more 50-plus-year-olds buying groceries and meals online? Eighty-nine percent of consumers surveyed cited high delivery or service fees. Almost the same percentage (88%) pointed to items in bad condition (such as bruised produce), a desire to see and touch food in person, or difficulty returning a product if it’s not what they wanted or it’s spoiled. Also, 84% reported receiving wrong or incomplete orders. Researchers noted that consumers ages 65 and older were more likely to cite barriers to ordering online.

Of respondents who already buy groceries or meals online, 82% cited the benefit of not having to travel to a store, while 78% named the ability to order when they have time. Other motivators included access to a wide variety of products (cited by 73%), the ability to shop for exactly what they need (73%) and not having the physical burden of getting around the store or carrying groceries (72%).

The IFIC-AARP research also uncovered a gender gap in the over-50 age group in terms of what would encourage these shoppers to order groceries online more frequently.

For example, among women, 70% said they would make more online purchases if there were a guarantee that products were personally inspected (versus 61% of men); 67% would buy online more if there were special coupons (58% of men); 64% said loyalty programs would sway them to order online more frequently (52% of men); and 63% would like to be able to view labels before purchasing a product (51% of men).

Distinct profiles of over-50 online grocery shoppers emerged in the study, IFIC and AARP said: those in higher income brackets and those with mobility issues, who tend to have lower incomes.

According to the findings, typical older, online grocery shoppers are likely to be in their 50s, from the Northeast, college-educated, working full-time and white. Online grocery shoppers with annual incomes below $35,000 are far more likely (30%) to report mobility issues as a major obstacle than those earning more than $75,000 (7%).

“We found that older Americans who buy groceries online are not at all a monolithic group, and that there are a variety of reasons and motivations behind their purchases,” Lewin-Zwerdling explained. “Changing desires and circumstances in life change our online purchasing behavior, with diverse factors from affluence and education to physical limitations.”

Unsurprisingly, the groceries purchased most often online by 50-and-older consumers rank generally by shelf life or perishability, the researchers found.

Products that these online shoppers buy or feel comfortable buying include cleaning products (89%), household paper products (88%), canned foods (86%), packaged pantry items (82%), bottled water (79%), condiments and sauces (78%), personal hygiene products (74%), spices (73%), grains other than bread (72%), carbonated beverages (72%), teas or juices (70%), bread (63%), fruit and vegetables (54%), dairy products (52%), deli meat and cheese (44%), meat (40%) and premade dishes (39%).

The top online grocery delivery providers that Americans age 50 and older buy from were Amazon Fresh (58%), Peapod (24%), Google Express (18%) and Fresh Direct (17 %). The top meal kit delivery companies used by these shoppers were Blue Apron (63%) and Hello Fresh (42%), with several others at 10% or less. Standing atop the prepared meal delivery companies were Schwann’s (37%), followed by orders from restaurants (16%) and from Freshly (12 %).

Of those who shop online and have more interest in reading food product labels, they overwhelmingly say it’s harder to get package information online than in person, IFIC and AARP noted. The study revealed that 51% find it difficult to get nutrition facts online, compared with 18% in person; 50% report that it’s difficult to get ingredients lists online versus 15% in person; and 48% say it’s hard to get calorie and other nutrition information online, compared with 15% in person

For both online shoppers and the general population, the packaging information most sought after is the expiration date (78% for online shoppers and the general population), ingredients list (70% online, 58% general population), Nutrition Facts panel (61% online, 52% general population) and front-of-package information about calories and nutrition (55% online, 46% general population).

“As grocery shopping and other food purchases move increasingly online, the chasm between older Americans’ desire to know more about their food and their ability to find that information is troubling,” Lewin-Zwerdling added. “This suggests that we could improve the overall health of the older population by thinking more strategically and creatively about how to give them the information they want — and that would help make more healthy choices when selecting foods and beverages to consume.”

Learn more about consumer trends at the inaugural SN Summit, held Oct. 1-3 in Dallas, the only conference where food retailers and restaurateurs learn from each other.

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