The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

2009 Forecasts

2009 Forecasts

Shoppers and Trends

January 25, 2009

Rarely does a year like 2008 erupt. It was a year that punished consumers, homeowners and investors with repeated financial blows. Millions reeled, changed their longstanding patterns of eating out and buying food and beverage in retail stores, and sought to save in many ways that seem likely to stick and change shopping behaviors for decades to follow. In fact, we would suggest that these shoppers might well carry these new behaviors through their lifetime, similar to what occurred with the generation of shoppers who lived through the Great Depression.

The financial uprooting of America cut deeply and broadly and left relatively few untouched. As household budgets and retirement plans withered, consumers took control of what they could – their shopping plans, their retail spending, their eating strategies – to become fitter and weather these tough times.

Consumer relationships with food and beverage, and the stores that provide them, have changed suddenly. With insights from our 2009 National Grocers Association-SupermarketGuru Consumer Panel Survey, retailers and suppliers will be better able to adjust strategies and executions to better serve these newly transformed consumers.

The findings from this survey clearly point out that America’s shoppers expect food retailers to satisfy them more in areas of price/cost savings, service, and assortments, especially in the arena of healthful, locally grown foods.

The good news, for the supermarket trade at least, is that many consumers, often at their personal breaking points of weight and money concerns, are motivated to eat healthier and seek value. In these two key areas, N.G.A. members can take steps to help shoppers make better decisions and expect loyalty in return.

And while restaurants’ losses are supermarkets’ gains in the current economy, that’s only a relative plus – and perhaps a short-term windfall as those foodservice establishments develop new offerings based on this new consumer. N.G.A. members will need to compete on price even more fiercely in 2009 against better-resourced large chains to win shopping trips, which are in decline. 

Margins that N.G.A. members have learned to live on may need to shrink this year, not only on name brands, but also on their own exclusive private labels. Recent drops in fuel and ingredients costs make this worth considering, especially since some major chains have already taken similar steps.  

Price is the #1 shopper issue in 2009 – even with the potential economic lift from a new presidency and an aggressive Congress. Families dislike deficits in their budgets.

Economics will color everything this year. Survey findings, disclosed in our report, indicate a loss of traction in the importance of store features that classically rate high in store selection. Among them: availability of high-quality meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables; nutritional and health information; organic foods; and consistent product freshness in perishables and center-store categories. 

Concurrently, consumers say that low prices, sale items and money-saving specials, frequent shopper programs and private labels are rising in importance.

In this presentation of survey findings, we compared the latest consumer responses with those of a year ago, and where appropriate, with an N.G.A.-SupermarketGuru earlier study from 2003, when the United States was also in a fragile economic position following the unprecedented terrorist attacks of September 2001.

We believe these benchmarking comparisons add value to our member guidance on evolving market issues, and where N.G.A. members ought to be focusing their efforts today. The 2009 economic landscape has consumers, retailers and suppliers in a very different place from just a year earlier. The opportunity here for N.G.A. members is to understand the latest priorities of their demanding consumer bases in order to remain competitive and aligned to meet their needs.