Sustainable food shop sweetgreen leveraged customer behavior to design data-driven retail stores sand mobile apps Continue Reading
My research into American food buying habits yielded many interesting insights. An underlying trend that came up were those who didn’t shop for convenience and variety. What this showed is that there’s a behavioral shift happening with the American family as they begin to cook at home again. While numerous studies indicate that in the past decade, Americans haven’t been able to be bothered with at-home food preparation, cultural and socioeconomic influences on U.S. lifestyles show that consumers are heading back to the kitchen in order to meet their need for personal connection to friends and family, saving money and developing better eating habits.
In 2010, 55% of grocery shoppers prepared more meals at home, while in 2015, that number dropped to 40% due to more people buying high-end pre-prepared meals. In 2014, the average American cook spent 5.9 hours prepping food per week. Of those cooking at home, 37% said they loved to do so and 32% felt they had the knowledge and expertise necessary to prepare great meals for themselves or their families.(2) In 2015, cooking responsibilities began to fall to men, with 40% of men cooking and 26% of families sharing the responsibility.(1)
Making Meals More Affordable
More Americans starting to cook at home is primarily driven by financial reasons across all income brackets. In 2014, a North Carolina State University sociology study found that for many Americans, the ability to save money and achieve dietary diversity outweigh the “inconveniences’ of meal prep time (5). For low to middle income families, the shaky economy has forced them to prepare as much food at home as possible. There are currently 17.5 million food insecure households relying on federal or food pantry assistance (6), and the ability to feed their families has led 78% of low to middle income families to cook and eat dinner at home five or more nights a week. (7) Making food affordable is a strategy that is leveraged by Trade Joe’s. 85% of Trader Joe’s goods are private label (11). By offering healthy, low cost food options that shoppers can’t find anywhere else, the grocer is able to appeal to a wide audience of customers while competing with Sprouts and Whole Foods.
Making Meals Healthier
The old adage, “we are what we eat,” play a key role in Americans eating at home. More and more, consumers want to control what is on their plates and what is going into their bodies. In a study conducted by Share Our Strength as part of their Cooking Matters program, the organization found that 85% of low to middle income families also said that food prices were the most significant barriers to healthier cooking (8). In 2013, Harvard School of Public Health found that by adding $1.50 more a day to their food allowances would enable families facing financial hardships to eat a healthy diet versus an unhealthy diet. That adds up to about $45 per month or $550 a year (10).
In accordance with spending less and creating healthier lifestyles, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that in 2010, Americans started consuming 118 calories less per day. “The good news is that we’re getting healthier, the bad news is that we’re poorer,” said Harry Balzer, a food analyst with NPD Group, who noted that median U.S. household income remained flat in 2012 from 2011(14). Thus the American need for health and savings is being balanced by returning the kitchen.
Meals Time Is Communal
As Americans work more, they’ve begun to look for areas where they can slow down. Meal preparation falls into this category. From the slow food movement to the celebration of regional cuisines that focus on local and farm-raised foods, 67% of Americans have begun spending more time at home with their families and 44% have entertained friends at home instead of going out. (3) As humans, we are wired so our well-being depends on our mental connections to others (4), thus being able to commune over meals helps us achieve this need. “Connection is important, food is something to be enjoyed,” says says Holstee founder Michael Radparvar. Communal Food is what inspired our monthly potluck dinners, our food rules collection and the reason we decided to print this WWI poster on how to enjoy food.”
Know Your Ingredients
Amongst middle to upper income families, food allergies and new dietary guidelines have become key factors to cooking at home. In 2014, 28% of shoppers looked for foods that were minimally processed, 26% looked for ingredients they knew and 25% looked for locally grown goods (13). “You want to know how and where your food was grown,” says documentary filmmaker, Greg Bendoni. “As an at-home chief, I’m able to know that the salmon I’m cooking was wild caught versus farm raised; I’m able to ensure gluten didn’t contaminate my meal. I can trust my own kitchen better than I can trust any restaurant.”
From organically grown produce to humanely raised animals, consumers are actively tracing the origins of their food. In 2015, the trend of buying locally produced and wanting to understand product cycles of food will continue. “People also seem to be interested in getting closer to raw ingredients and eating food that is in season,” says John and Emily Benbow, founders of Food at 52. Consumers shopping at farmer’s markets will continue to increase though the local food market is leveling off. A great example of appealing to consumer desire to understand where their food comes from is Whole Foods’ “Values Matter” campaign. The brand campaign highlights the company’s groundbreaking quality standards, healthy offerings and key milestones as a pioneer in the natural and organic food industry. By communicating the company’s deeper purpose and its history of celebrating food and the people who produce it, the multichannel advertising initiative demonstrates the values of “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store.”
Insights and Opportunities
So how can organizations leverage these needs to create better marketing strategies for their consumers? By financing education programs, leveraging do-it-yourself concepts and offering activations hold great value to consumers. For example, if we want Americans to continue to develop healthy eating habits, let’s teach them how to cook. In doing so, we’re providing tools they can use to meet their time and budgetary needs.
“One important reason so many are not cooking is because we simply don’t know how. For the moment, let’s leave aside the stuff of celebrity chef competitions and Instagram,” says CivilEats.com food writer Kim O’Donnel. “Cooking in an everyday context means boiling water for potatoes, carrots, pasta or rice. It means washing and drying lettuce to make a salad,” she adds. (15) If want organizations wanted to use classes and how-to as an engagement tool, the opportunities education with new meal components are enormous. For example, on a typical weekday: 57% of meal preparers serve a meat/poultry or seafood entrée; 43% a rice, potato, stuffing or pasta side dish; 42% a vegetable side dish; 24% bread, biscuits or rolls; 20% a green salad; and 15% dessert (17). Providing recipes based on their current eating patterns would be valuable to the cook.
Also, by leveraging in-person cooking demonstration, store events, how-to videos, do-it-yourself preparation guides and visual tools like Instagram, Pinterest, infographics and downloadable resources, marketers and organizations can meet American food consumers’ needs. For lower income families, access and education to affordable healthy food options is also necessary. In 2014, the U.S. Government put $100 million in SNAP benefits to encourage recipients to buy fresh fruit and vegetables (18). “This program helps families buy healthy food from their local farmers markets, which also helps family farmers and boosts the economy,” says Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who was instrumental in introducing the plan. (19) Working with local neighborhood organizations and farmer’s markets to make better choices locally available will help families with limited money and transportation resources able to lead healthier lives.
- Grocery Shopping Trends, 2010 – 2014. Food Marketing Institute, 2010 – 2014.
- Global Cooking Habits Study, GFK, March 2015.
- Grocery Shopping Trends, 2010 – 2014. Food Marketing Institute, 2010 – 2014.
- Why We Are Wired To Connect, Scientific American. October 2013.
- The Joy of Cooking, North Carolina State University, Summer 2014.
- U.S. grocery shopper trends 2014. The Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.
- Food Insecurity In The U.S., U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2013.
- Wait, So People Are Cooking? New York Times, 2012.
- Low-Income Families Cook Dinner at Home Five Nights a Week, Aspire to Eat Healthy, Cooking Matters, 2012.
- Eating Healthy vs. Eating Unhealthy Costs $1.50 Per Day. Harvard School of Public Health, December 2013.
- Why Are Trade Joe’s More Profitable Than Whole Foods? Business Insider, January 2015.
- Grocery Shopping Trends Infographic, 2010 – 2014. Food Marketing Institute, 2010 – 2014. .
- Are Farmers Market Sales Peaking? That Might Be Good For Farmers, NPR, February 2015.
- Americans’ Eating Habits Take a Healthier Turn, Study Finds, Wall St. Journal, 2014.
- How Can We Get America Cooking? One Crumb at a Time, Civil Eats, February 2015.
- The Gallup study of Dinner. Gallup, February 2013.
- The Gallup study of Dinner. Gallup, February 2013.
- How ‘Double Bucks’ For Food Stamps Conquered Capitol Hill, NPR, Nov 2014.
- Farm bill contains farmers market program that food advocates for poor see as hopeful, Washington Post, January 2014.
This article was written for and originally appeared in Canvas8 in 2015.
A Look At The Shift In U.S. Consumer Shopping Grocery Habits Are Changed In 2008 – 2016
In 2015, U.S grocery shoppers have one goal – to make their money go farther while. In order to accomplish that, they shopped at traditional grocery chain stores, but they also diversified the types of places they purchased food in order to obtain better prices and greater product selection. What’s more, they’re using social media and mobile devices to find the best deals. In 2014, primary household shoppers – of which 54% were female and 46% were male (9) – 83% now shopped at discount (dollar) stores, 91% shopped at mega-stores and 78% shoppe at local farmers markets. (1)
The Food Marketing Institute found that three critical drivers of consumer supermarket behavior were price (37%), convenience (28%) and selection (20%). (7) Higher cost of goods, national unemployment rates and other economic factors are still causing Americans to be cautious with their money. For U.S. consumers, food price is the #1 factor in how and what they buy (22b) as many still feel they’re recovering from the effects of the 2008 economic downturn. (3a) What’s more, the growth “wellness culture,” embodied by a growing consumer preference for real, fresh, less processed food and beverages, has become a key driver in what they bought in stores in today. (2b)
How Americans Are Spending Their Money
The U.S. Supermarket industry is worth $638,338 billion dollars; the average grocery store features 44,000 products. (14) In 2014, U.S. shoppers spent 22.9% of their grocery budgets on processed foods, 21.5% on meat, 14.6% on vegetables, 14.4% on baked goods and grains, 11.1% on beverages and 10.6% on dairy products. (8) The top 10 items they buy are yogurt, bottle water, pizza, poultry sandwiches, Mexican food, fresh fruit, bars, frozen sandwiches, chips and pancakes. (11) On average, U.S. shoppers consumed two products per day labeled reduced calorie, low fat, light, low carb, fortified, organic, whole grain, reduced sodium or cholesterol. (13)
Cost conscious behavior is staple food categories; they’re willing to forgo eating out in order to make better choices at home with the exception of coffee. In fact, one in 10 Americans say their coffee habit would be the last thing they’d cut back on (15a). “Coffee’s addictive qualities are experiencing growth more than ever before, even at $3 for an espresso and $4.50 a latte, consumers will not cut back it as it’s become more a ritualistic part of their daily experiences,” say Krista Peck M.S., a social psychology blogger. “Since they’re price conscious in the what they view as important areas, coffee is a small indulgence.” (28)
American Shoppers Are Fickle and Shop Multiple Stores
Food is everywhere, drug stores offer meals to go, supermarkets offer organic selections and healthy stores have been local wine bars, enabling shoppers to obtain what they quickly and efficiently at any time. This phenomena is what The Hartman Group terms “the Roadside Pantry Effect,” meaning that today’s consumers now navigate a world of 360-degree food availability, picking and choosing from a huge pantry of roadside as well as virtual options. The new dynamic can be disconcerting for food marketers and grocers, who often blame shoppers’ stress and time constraints for the slow disintegration of pantry-stocking behaviors. “Our research showed the “Roadside Pantry Effect” is rooted in many factors,” said Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group. “Consumers don’t want to have to plan food in advance. They can now eat on a whim, which makes food exciting and fun.” (18)
As a result, grocery shopping trips have changed dramatically. In their Food Shopping in America 2014 report, they found that 61% of consumers shop at least twice a week for groceries; more than half of consumers are shopping two or more stores per trip. (10b) to their food stores of choice – something that’s very important to them. Today, a household’s primary shopper is heavily invested in his or her favorite supermarket, averaging 88 trips per year to the store, spending about $6,000 (2a) per year. That averages out to $500 per month, 1.8 trips per week and an average purchase of $62.50 each trip. Between 2006 and 2012, the average shopper made over two trips per week and spent under $50 per occurrence. (5b)
Mobile’s Impact On Shopper Behavior
With the increase in frequency to the store, grocery shoppers are more engaged and informed than ever because they a) are planning what they are re going to buy before they head to the store and b) have access to any food information they need via their mobile devices. Mobile technology has begun to carve away from the traditional brick-and-mortar world of food retailing. “The smartphone has helped consumers increase their food literacy”, says Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group. “Retailers that are able to deliver an enhanced shopping experience while demonstrating compelling value will be more successful in attracting and retaining customers in the long run.”
Demeritt’s research showed that 82% of smartphone users believe the technology has improved how well they eat, and 44% use digital resources, such as blogs or Pinterest, to new recipes to shop with. (23b) Shoppers’ needs to find recipes, make predesigned lists and obtain digital coupons offers hasn’t been lost by Whole Foods. While the retailer has recently undergone decline in sales due to pricing, they currently offer their customers the best mobile applications available to address their shopping needs, users can sync shopping lists, find and curate new recipe collections, post to their social networks, leverage budget tools and even comment and rate content within the apps.
Offering Local Products Created Differentiation – And Sales
As mobile has made customers more food savvy, grocers are now finding that these individuals want more variety, localized food and other specialty goods carried in their local stores. Grocers are addressing by becoming destination for these products, offering their customers organic choices and making take-home meals readily available.
This change in behavior directly to correlates our research that found more Americans eating more meals at home since the recession. “Supermarkets have begun offering serious competition to restaurants,” says Bonnie Riggs, an industry analyst with the NPD Group. “They’re filling the void with innovative dining options without high prices.” (3b) Some of the biggest trends in American grocery stores can be found in the specialty food (paleo/gluten-free/vegan) and the beverage categories of wine and healthy drinks.
Shoppers Are Purchased “Convenience” Meals More Than Ever
In 2015, U.S. Shoppers are buying more ready-to-go meals than ever. For consumers, convenience meals fall into two categories – Ready-to-Eat and Heat-and-Serve. Ready-to-Eat items include rotisserie chicken, sandwiches, sushi, and similar food items and Heat-and-Serve items include fresh pizza, casseroles and soups, are foods that require more preparation at home. Among these two categories, consumers are more apt to be purchasing Ready-To-Eat items (57%) over Heat-and-Serve (44%). (29c)
Ready-to-Eat meals are easier for for consumers that eat out during the week to consumer due to time constraints. During a typical week, lunch accounts for 59% of all meals eaten away from home; dinner accounts for 33% and breakfast 7%, 50% of the consumers that use their grocery stores at lunchtime say they want food options to cater to their joint needs for health, wellness and a higher quality of life. (29a,b) With lunch, the #1 purchase in grocery stores are made-to-order sandwiches, as 46% of consumers feel sandwiches offer the best health benefits. For shoppers, grocery stores that offer ready to eat foods satisfy immediate consumption needs in much the same way as food service takeout. (29d)
Grocers Win As Wine Shops
According to Nielsen, There’s a wine retailing revolution and it’s happening in the supermarket. During 2014, supermarkets across the U.S. (including mass-merchant superstores) saw $8.6 billion in wine sales, a sales number that represents 42% of the country’s store bought wine consumption for the year. (24a) What’s impressive is the growth within these outlets compared with overall wine sales; consumer spending on wine in these outlets rose just over 4% compared from 2013. (24b) Wine is giving grocers an opportunity to boost their profits through product diversification. The sale of wine in an the average shopping trip outlined earlier in this article ($45-$63.50) jumps to $75 when the shopper buys wine. The additional $28 spent by a shopper was for alcohol (about $15) and food to pair with it. This suggests that selling wine not only diversifies supermarket offerings but goes hand-in-hand with gain additional food sales in the process. (24c)
From Pavilions to Trader Joes, Whole Foods to Fresh N’ Easy, grocers are stocking local, affordable and palatable wins to build the incremental purchases noted above. In the U.S. cities it’s allowed, retailers like Cost Plus World Market and Trade Joe’s offer complimentary wine tastings. In Las Vegas, a Trader Joe’s crew member said, “If a customer tries eight wines we’re sampling, most often they buy one bottle that ranges between $8-16.” It’s important for grocers to research local state laws to understand liquor requirements in their area before the carry or sample alcoholic beverages in their stores.
Consumers Want More Natural, “Healthy” Beverages
In addition to purchasing healthier convenient food at supermarkets, consumers also purchased “healthier” beverages. In fact, 28% of U.S. consumers were looking for more holistic, natural ingredients in what they drink; 25% said they look for beverages with the fewest amount of ingredients as they associate anything with preservatives, chemicals, too-long or unpronounceable ingredient lists as a potential cause of negative health conditions. (2c)
“It’s no mystery that consumers are in demand of healthy beverage options that meet a functional need,” said Mitchell Raisch, Co-Founder of Just Chill beverages, a health beverage company with extensive distribution in Whole Foods, Kroger and other grocers nationwide. “When we started working with our distribution partners, we made it a point to educate them about what our products offered the shoppers that bought them. By educating our partners, we are able to help their associates help the label readers and health conscious on what makes our products worth buying from a personal health standpoint.” (27)
While carry healthy drinks options was once confined to natural food stores, there expansion has begun. Fresh N’ Easy currently carries them in their overall beverage section and has a small selection at self-serve check out that customers can pair with their ready-to-go lunch options. Vons and Pavilions carry them in the organic sections of their fresh produce areas. Whole Foods carries them at aisle end points, near fresh foods, in their dairy sections, as well as in the front of the store where shoppers can see them.
Investing In Wellness Drives Sales
The concept of accessible wellness has been growing since 2008. Today we see drugstores transforming into healthcare hubs and grocers going after a holistic health experience. In 2009, Rite Aid introduced wellness + program. The wellness initiative was a hybrid health initiative that provided participants with wellness advocates, a reward points system that gave customers tiered discounts by dollars spent, free health screenings and customized online dashboards for to track their health goals.
For Rite Aid, it was an excellent move as their brand partners saw an extensive growth in sales through it. (17) To further capitalize on wellness+ program’s success, Rite Aid expanded it with a program with consumer loyalty rewards program Plenti. The wellness+ Plenti program allowed users to earn more rewards faster while their other purchases can aggregate other rewards with other retailers they also shop at, including Macy’s, Exxon Mobil, Hulu and AT&T. The success of the program enabled the drugstore to better serve its clientele, donate over $2 million to local children’s charities, and create a coffee and tea shop partnerships in over 1300 stores. (19)
Insights and Opportunities
The fragmentation in food shopping patterns, coupled with growth in e-commerce has led grocers to see a decline in shopper traffic to physical stores. (4) According to Planet Retail’s US research director Sandy Skrovan: “Five years from now, the retail grocery landscape will look markedly different than it does today. Retailers can no longer expect shoppers to come to them, but instead must prepare to be where the shopper is.”(16) In order to maintain sales and customer relationships, grocers are looking to new e-commerce models. Currently 14% of customer currently buy groceries online (5), this number is estimated to grow to 23% by the end of 2015 (10a) as more consumers look for ways to create more efficient use of their time via technology. (6) Partnering with food delivery services such as Instacart could be a great way for grocers of all types to fulfill customer needs.
Capitalizing On In-Store Experience
In the past five years, one of the biggest shifts in consumer behavior brands and retailers have seen this decade is the growth in consumers’ needs of life experiences. Retailers in all product categories are beginning to invest in “experience” to address consumers’ growing desire to have less material possessions and more moments to remember. Grocers are going to want to focus on leveraging “experience” as consumer relationship tool as well.
“The store of tomorrow is less about being transactional and more about the experience,” said Jeremy Bergstein, co founder of The Science Project, a retail innovation firm in New York City. According to Bergstien, grocers can build experiences into their store environments by (25):
- Create Technologically Equipped Communal Spaces: When a customer enters a store, they should immediately feel it’s speaking to their needs. For U.S. consumers, one of their main contextual touchpoints for food is the actual “MEAL.” Often divorced from the shopping experiences, retailers can inject this warmth and context into their stores and bring a whole new high value facet and focus. Leveraging the right technology at key points and leveraging mobile devices, retailers can in essence introduce the customer to the foods that fit their dietary needs. Can you imagine of your phone could say, “May I interest you in trying these great low sugar meal options?” Often, instant connection can completely open up a decision making process and affinity for a brand to inject even these most nominal interactions
- Make Employees Experts To Build Customer Relationships: “Old school” grocers cultivated relationships with customers and their food. They were inherently specialists and category experts in beverages, produce and meat; they dispensed advice and expertise to allow their customers to make the best purchases. This relationship is still applicable today, structuring associate/customer relationships along the lines of what we do in luxury is a simple step back into a specialized more personalized relationship we are all craving!
In 2016 – Capitalize On Immediate Needs
Grocers should continue to capitalize on immediacy in order to maintain their customers. By provided them diverse, pre-prepped foods for lunch and dinner will keep them coming in the stores. Making those pre-prepped foods available for delivery will build online orders. Agility and flexibility are keys to success in the ever evolving landscape of CPG and grocery in the U.S. Retailers must be prepared to give customers access to a diverse range of fresh, convenient and health conscious goods at all times. The grocer that masters providing what they want via whatever method they want to acquire it will ultimately be the most successful.
- Where do cost conscious American shoppers get their groceries? Consumer Reports, August 2014.
- 2 (a, b). U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2014 Report: Diversification of Primary Store, pg. 10. Food Marketing Institute. November 2014.
- 3 (a, b). Where to Shop, to Shop Smart. Consumer Reports, March 2014.
- Stores Confront New World of Reduced Shopper Traffic, Wall Street Journal, January 2014.
- U.S. Grocery Shopping Habits, Statista, January 2014.
- 8 Things Really Efficient People Do, Inc. November 2013.
- How Has American Grocery Shopping Changed in the Past 30 Years? Bon Appetit, January 2013.
- Food Shopping in America 2014, The Hartman Group & MSL Group, November 2014.
- 10 (a, b). Channel haze lingers. Clarity needed for brick-and-click roadside pantry effect. Hartman Group, February 2014.
- How have American eating habits changed since 2004? Food Navigator, November 2014.
- How Well Do You Know Today’s Primary Grocery Shopper? The NPD Group, 2014.
- Supermarket Facts. Food Marketing Institute, December 2013.
- Caffeine and Cable; How Americans Shop Now. Consumer Reports, November 2014.
- What are the top five trends shaping the US grocery retailing landscape? Food Navigator, March 2014.
- Rite Aid Supplier Partners of the Year: Outstanding Examples of Collaboration, Rite Aid, November 2014.
- Interview with Author.
- Innovative Concepts Transform Rite Aid’s Beverly Hills Store. Rite Aid. September 2014.
- The Bond Loyalty Report 2015. Bond Brand Loyalty, January 2015.
- Kroger and Shell Kick Off Loyalty Program, Kroger Companies, 2010.
- Rising Prices Greatest Factor In Grocery Decision Making Process. Nielsen August 2012.
- 23 (a, b). Smartphone use among 5 key trends driving interest in healthy eating. Food Navigator, November 2014.
- 24 (a,b,c). How Grocers Are Becoming Local Wine Shops. Nielsen, February 2015.
- Interview with Author.
- How you will shop in 2020. Fast Company, April 2015.
- Interview with Author.
- Interview with Author.
- (a,b,c,d). Food Shopping Trends, The Food Marketing Institute, January 2015.
This article was originally written for and appeared in Canvas8 in late 2014.
Information on how to market to Millennials can be found everywhere, but what about Baby Boomers? The Baby Boomer generation – people born between 1946 and 1964 – had been the focus of major sales strategies for decades, but as technology advanced, that focus has shifted to Millennials and Gen Y. However, as social media matures, the focus is shifting back to Baby Boomers, a group with a sizable disposable income. Continue Reading
Fashion brands and retailers have been talking about mobile and data for years, but we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what we know, what it can do and how it’s going to impact consumer behavior. Learn what you need to know about mobile and sales in this video series I produced for MAGIC. Ara Katz of Spring, Cheryl Cheng of Blue Run Ventures and Mark Evans of Brand Garage talk about what retailers need to know.
The 2007 financial crisis caused the American housing market to collapse, creating the longest economic downturn since The Great Depression. That period officially ended five years ago, and cities across the country have more than fully recovered. Major states with metropolitan areas larger than 500,000 residents have even surpassed their pre-recession economic levels, thanks to lucrative industries that either sprouted from the ground post-recession or kept cities afloat through the crisis.
The growth and recovery isn’t all roses, especially for Millennials. With rising rents, many of them want to buy homes, but find the process confusing and overwhelming. For others, student loan debt, job market and negative financial factors push them towards a trend of being long-time renters. In 2015, as the feds are set to raise the rates, Millennials nationwide are asking themselves: “Do I rent or buy?”