Our Thinking

The last few years have seen major changes in the ways that consumers shop for groceries. Grocery chains focusing on either premium or extreme value options have seen growth in market share and store traffic, while mass traditional supermarkets are struggling to maintain relevance.

At the same time, despite busy lives, consumers are shopping in more grocery formats, and are less likely to choose one grocery brand as a primary shopping location. Over the past few years there has been a shift in shopper behaviour and the role that food and mealtimes play in shoppers’ lives. These changing consumer needs have clear implications for the ways that grocery retailers need to position and differentiate themselves.

We have identified 3 key drivers of this shift in behaviour and we will explore them over the next few weeks. We will also examine the ways that grocery brands need to revitalize themselves in order to maximize the opportunity these changes present in terms of both in-store experience and other touchpoints that can be used to build shopper engagement.

The Changing Role of Grocery Shopping Within the Household

Grocery shopping is no longer the responsibility of a single primary shopper (usually female) within households. Adult men and women both recognize the fairness of sharing grocery shopping and meal preparation, especially given the prevalence of dual income working households. Men increasingly play a significant role in grocery planning, food shopping and meal preparation, with 80% of US households now sharing grocery-shopping responsibilities.

However, while men and women share broadly similar behaviour in terms of basket size and value, trip missions and channels used, there is a significant difference in the path to purchase for male and female grocery shoppers.

Men typically engage at a much lower rate in terms of grocery planning. They are less likely to read weekly ads, clip coupons or write down shopping lists, and rely much more strongly on recall and mental shopping lists. Just concentrating on female grocery shopper behaviour reduces the opportunity for retailers to have an impact on shopping behaviour across the path to purchase. Grocers are missing opportunities to build store traffic, motivate basket value growth, and increase product trial in store. Given the predominance of a memory-reliant, less informed male consumer, opportunities to stimulate impulse purchasing and engage in solution selling are clear.

Widening Channel Usage

As more family members participate in grocery shopping, more household resources can be allocated to this task, increasing the amount of time that households can spend grocery shopping. This is one of the drivers of growth in channel usage. Over the last 5 years, the number of different channels used by individual grocery shoppers has increased by 25%, with the average principal grocery shopper visiting 3 different grocery channels. This growth in channel usage – despite continued pressure on shoppers’ free time and their need for convenience – is largely driven by an increase in co-shopping and shared shopping responsibility. This means that households are better placed to shop an assortment of retail brands and use different channels to meet specific category needs. For example, bulk products and staples can be bought from value-driven retailers like mass merchandisers, club and dollar channels, while categories for which product range and quality are key consumer drivers (meat, bakery and produce) are increasingly sourced from specialist organic or local retailers. And while specialists’ share of wallet has increased threefold in the last 10 years, only 3% of shoppers consider organic supermarkets, for example, as their primary grocery store, indicating that most shoppers use specialty stores for specific items, rather than as part of a stock-up shopping mission.

Mealtimes as Food Experiences, Not Chores

Traditionally, for most households, meal preparation and grocery shopping were based on predictable products and shopping lists, with limited engagement. Grocery shopping was one more chore for the housewife, who needed to complete her shopping trips as easily and simply as possible.

As consumers have shifted focus from the physical to the experiential, grocery shopping has become less of a chore and a more of an engaging experience. Food and meals are an opportunity for self-expression and status building, both offline when sharing meals with friends and family, and online using social media to show status and share experiences. Shoppers today allocate more of their time to creating their own food experiences, best shown by the growth of viewership of online recipe video content which has increased 170% year on year, with 23 billion views of video recipe content alone in the last 12 months.

This increasing appetite for food content – both on and offline – presents strong opportunities for retailers and the brands they sell. It highlights the need for innovation to satisfy shoppers’ inherent desire for new food experiences and the importance of building emotional engagement with shoppers, as well as the real potential for in-store digital activation to engage shoppers at the emotional level.