ShopRite just announced that it's launching an iPhone app, making it easier to search the sale prices from its weekly circulars. Shopper, currently the No. 1 grocery app, recently added weekly fliers from such grocery chains as Target, Giant and Walgreens.
And of course, there are already dozens of nutrition, restaurant and shopping apps out there, whether it's the Meijer WineList app, the Good Guide app, which ranks more than 70,000 products on health, environmental and social performance, or the Whole Foods Marketplace app, which offers directions to the nearest store and 2,000 free recipes. Many feature mobile coupons, which allow smartphone users to save money at the register, without ever touching a mouse or a piece of paper.
So, does all this "app-iness" prove that Americans are increasingly in love with grocery lists, as so much of the "new frugalism" research indicates?
"No," says Phil Lempert, the consumer trends expert known as the Supermarket Guru. "It proves we are in love with apps." He expects the proliferation to continue, and for many of them to do very well, even after the novelty wears off. "These food applications allow us to make decisions in a supermarket about nutrition, whether something is available in an organic form, find out about food allergies -- and it brings it all right down to the store base. These are going to be very successful."
There are limits, though. Lempert doesn't believe the explosion in food retailing apps --which is, after all, just a way for consumers to bring the Internet with them to the local market -- is getting us much closer to the next step, that of encouraging the consumer to skip the supermarket altogether, and order groceries via smartphone or computer.
Although PeaPod.com, the pioneer in the category, is still in existence -- and just turned 20 -- Lempert can't envision a world without supermarket shopping, unless it's for the most boring, unemotional food purchases.
"Our smart refrigerators will have scales on the shelves, for example, and be able to let us know that based on past usage, we're running low on milk, or our smart pantries will be able to tell us we need canned tomatoes," he says. "But produce? Meat? The fun foods? No. We're not going to stop wanting to shop for that -- we love it. We really get into it," he says. "Food is very primal, and an online experience is never going to replicate the excitement we get walking around in a store."