by Peter Larkin/ president and CEO, National Grocers Association
Special to The Shelby Report
The verdict is in about fresh foods: Shoppers are prioritizing health and taste as the top reasons for consuming fresh items.
Moreover, produce ranks as the most important fresh department to shoppers. And in an era of multi-channel retail competition, supermarkets still command a huge share of shoppers’ fresh foods dollars.
These insights are part of the National Grocers Association (NGA) report called “The Independent Consumer,” which outlines shopper preferences based on a national consumer survey. The survey compares attitudes of those who shop at different types of stores, such as independents and chains. The consumer research was conducted online in November 2016 within the U.S. by Nielsen/Harris Poll on behalf of NGA.
The report underscored the importance of fresh foods to shoppers’ overall experience. When asked about perceptions of their primary store, some 77 percent said it features fresh foods, with 72 percent highlighting that it sells high-quality fruits and vegetables. Shoppers of independent food stores in particular pointed to availability of high-quality meats as a key feature of their primary store. Independent store shoppers said factors that have the biggest impact on their satisfaction include availability of organic and local produce.
There are several reasons for this consumer trend. Nearly 79 percent of shoppers said they eat fresh foods for health reasons, but gender played a key factor as well. Women were much more likely than men (85 percent to 73 percent) to cite health factors.
But health isn’t the only draw to the fresh category. A total of 79 percent pointed to the importance of taste in fresh foods, which was far more important for rural (84 percent) and suburban (80 percent) shoppers than for urban (73 percent) consumers.
Other reasons cited for eating fresh foods included value (35 percent) and convenience (28 percent).
Food retailers shouldn’t ignore how they display fresh foods, either. Asked what matters most in the presentation of fresh foods, shoppers gave the biggest weights to freshness and appearance. Other attributes included packaging that provides a clear view of a product, cleanliness of display, and packaging that preserves freshness.
Unsurprisingly, produce took the top honors in the fresh segment. Asked to name the most important department when thinking of fresh foods, 43 percent said produce. That was particularly the case for suburban and rural shoppers.
Other fresh foods departments cited as most important included beef (15 percent), dairy (14 percent) and poultry (8 percent). Further down the list were seafood (7 percent), deli (7 percent), bakery (3 percent) and cheeses (3 percent).
The research outlined how supermarkets can serve as a powerful outlet for fresh foods. In fact, the study found that more than half of shoppers spend 75 percent or more of their fresh foods dollars at supermarkets compared to other outlets selling fresh items.
The study’s authors recommended several steps for retailers to better enhance fresh and prepared foods, including ways for independent food stores to set themselves apart.
“Distinguish yourself from regional and national chains with items clearly marked for special diets,” the study said. “Provide cooking instructions on fresh foods and packaging that gives a clear view of the product.”
The NGA research was sponsored by The Shelby Report. The consumer survey was conducted online last November within the U.S. It surveyed 1,902 U.S. adults 18 and over to explore their food shopping habits. NGA is spotlighting insights from the research throughout the year, including in key insight pieces and case studies of independent retailers that exhibited best practices. The focus is on obtaining takeaways and action steps from the insights. For more details on the research and methodology, visit nationalgrocers.org/consumertrends.