Study: The Three Stages Of Trading Down

preparing foodAt this point, no one needs reminding that the recession has changed the way people shop. But a new study from the Food Marketing Institute paints an intriguing picture of the stages consumers go through as they continue to cut back.

And to be sure, the study finds, they are cutting back: While consumers are spending an average of $98.40 weekly on groceries, which is a slight increase from $97.80 in 2008, they're buying considerably less food, once the year's 5.7% food-at-home inflation rate is factored in.

And while the stages are not exactly denial, anger, and acceptance, they do seem to follow a pattern. In Stage One, shoppers move to save money by changing their out-of-home patterns -- switching from fine dining to fast food, and then to supermarket meal solutions in place of restaurant meals. At this point, a majority of consumers (69%) say they are eating out less, and an additional 50% are eating out at less expensive places; 55% say they are preparing more meals at home than last year.



And while the economy may have spurred the change, other trends may make it stick -- 92% of consumers are certain that the meals they prepare at home are healthier than those at restaurants.

In Stage Two, consumers focus on changing their shopping behavior within the grocery store they have always used, scooping up more private brands and basic ingredients, and relying more on coupons and shopping lists.

While many studies in the last six months have identified private label as a growing behavior, this study reports that 97% of shoppers plan to purchase either the same amount or more of private-label brands, and that increasingly, they are using words like "quality" and "value" to describe them. And 53% of this survey say they make lists, 40% search newspaper or advertising inserts for specials, and 35% actively look for coupons.

Moving on to Stage Three, shoppers begin to rethink where they shop. Full-service supermarkets were identified by 56% of shoppers as their primary store -- down from 60% last year -- with most considering themselves loyal to their primary store, but more reliant on new channels for secondary and fill-in trips.

"Supercenters have 27% of the market share when it comes to grocery shopping, and are steadily increasing their share from 22 percent in 2005," it notes. "Most shoppers say they frequent a full-service supermarket either fairly often (31%) or almost every time (44%). Supercenters are the second-most-popular format, visited regularly by 39% of consumers."

Bargain hunters shop more: The most price-sensitive consumers shop 2.3 times per week, versus the average of 2.0 trips.

Those changes present considerable opportunities for retailers who know how to connect with shoppers as they make these transitions. "Retailers are challenged with a great opportunity to win over shoppers with money-saving ideas that appeal to their customers," the report notes.

What appeals most to shoppers are more nutrition and health information (71%), in-store pharmacists (70%) to provide health and wellness advice, easy-to-make recipes (48%), recipes for cooking a meal for $10 or less (44%, and convenient placement in the store for dinner items such as pasta, sauce, bread, meat and salad (28%).

Just as concerns about health and nutrition have not been slowed by the recession, neither have sustainability concerns. Food shoppers continue to show strong support for locally grown products, with 72% of shoppers saying they purchase locally grown products on a regular basis, driven by a desire for freshness (82%), the desire to support the local economy, (75%) and taste (58%).

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