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Ross: Joint Research Report Finds Grocery Shoppers Are More Alike Than Not

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John Ross

by John Ross / president and CEO of IGA

Do you believe our country is more aligned or more divisive today than it was a year ago? Five years ago? A decade?

If it feels as if the answer is “more divided than ever,” the data supports that. A famous paper published by the non-partisan Pew Research Center in 2014 shows how Americans are becoming increasingly polarized on a series of issues identified as conservative, liberal and moderate. 

As retailers (or brands selling into retail grocery), we need to appeal to all shoppers. Our mission is to serve communities, no matter what their political or ideological bent. Which leads me to the point of today’s column – sustainability. 

When thinking about issues such as global warming, reducing packaging and landfill waste, recycling, etc., we might at first link them to the liberal side. Which might, in turn, lead us to believe that environmental concerns don’t cross the blue/red divide.

Here we would be mistaken. A 2020 research report organized by a joint group of grocery retailers and funded by the Coca-Cola Retail Research Council found that on the issues of sustainability, consumers were more aligned than apart. Surprisingly aligned.

More than 70 percent of consumers say they try to reduce their own impact on the environment as much as possible, and 66 percent say they try to recycle.

In fact, Americans of all ages and parties are more unified than not on environmental and sustainability issues. Specifically: reusable bags; switching from plastic to paper; advocating for heath care for workers; and value of recycling.

As retailers – as marketers – we can’t afford to let personal bias cloud our judgment on how to serve shoppers. But if we tap into the things shoppers value – especially those that cross demographics – and position our brand to serve them, we can unlock market share growth. 

Americans want to do a better job themselves reducing waste and helping the environment. And if they can find brands that align with their personal goals, they will shop more often and spend more than with brands that just sell products with no aligned goals. 

In this research study, 80 percent of consumers said they want their grocery store of choice to prioritize employee and community support, and environmental issues.

In a world where the stuff we stock is often the same as our competition – where it becomes harder to differentiate and attract new shoppers – this is an enormous opportunity for food marketers. Put simply, if shoppers think a store or brand is working to make the world a better place, they will favor it. 

And the amazing thing is, we already do a lot of the things they want us to do. Most grocery stores give food to local food banks; donate to churches and community organizations; hold canned food drives; help out missions and other non-profits. And for independents such as IGA, we give back to the community at an intensely local level, which is something shoppers love. 

What we don’t do is tell anyone. Go walk a store or review marketing. We rarely promote what we do, and our humble culture often makes community efforts the biggest secret in the community. 

So, what should we do with this information?

First, build a plan. Sit down with the team, talk about what is important. Write a list of the goals. Chances are the team members will be more aligned than not.

Second, turn those goals into a promise. Write it out. The list may be different from another retailer, but it will be your store’s goals. And by making it personal, it means that it will be credible to shoppers and differentiating.

Third, create messaging that makes community support obvious. For example, most grocers have (or are in the process of) switching their lighting to LED. The investment can reduce utility bills dramatically. It often pays for itself in just a few months. But the energy savings go on for years. Did we tell anyone? 

This research paper was driven by a consortium of retailers big and small. Council members included executives from Albertsons, Kroger, Food Lion, IGA and a dozen more. 

America is aligned on this. So are retailers in the grocery world. Making the world a better place for ourselves and future generations is important. And shoppers will align with brands that show commitment. 

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