FMI Speaks: The State of the Food Retail Industry

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) previewed the findings of its 2012 U.S. Grocery Shopper trends research in a presentation by FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin, addressing participants at FMI2012, the Food Retail Show in Dallas. Seeking to help retailers shape their strategies for future growth, Sarasin identified and examined the implications of four significant and interrelated movements.

Undergirded by data provided by FMI research partner and global consulting firm Booz & Company, and making use of video, social media, and an expert panel of food retailers, Sarasin’s presentation focused on the significance of the following four trends, laying the groundwork for a broader FMI and Booz & Company collaborative education series in the coming months.

Value-Seeking as a Way of Life

  • Consumers responded to the 2007–2009 recession by choosing private brands and less expensive food options, making fewer trips and buying fewer items at the grocery store, shopping around for deals, and generally seeking value in their grocery shopping. Interestingly, even consumers in segments not directly affected by the recession exhibited some of these behaviors. As the slow economic recovery continues, research indicates these cost-cutting behaviors are persisting and will continue to do so in the immediate future. This has resulted in a “new normal,” reshaping consumer shopper patterns.

Technology as a Fact of Shopping Life

  • More than half of all shoppers now use technology either before or during their shopping trips. Much of this activity focuses on “value discovery”—deals, coupons, price comparisons, etc. As technology improves, more and more customers will be able to readily discover the lowest prices for the goods they want. In a world in which the lowest price can be located with a few swipes or clicks, retailers are encouraged to utilize online means to build relationships with customers.

Online Shopping Eating Away at Center Store

  • More than a decade has elapsed since online grocer Webvan sank without a trace. But online grocery shopping is making a comeback, as specialist online retailers carve out target categories. Sales numbers of these new specialists now equal those of full-line e-commerce grocers. Online “old-timers” also continue to chip away at key categories with simple searching and subscription purchasing. More than half of shoppers buy a grocery category online at least occasionally. As digital natives become household shoppers, this is likely to become much more common, pushing retailers to look for ways to better blend their bricks-and-mortar stores with their (or others’) online presence.

Format Innovation Pointing to New Differentiators

  • Over the last five years, the grocery industry has added approximately 150 million square feet of new capacity. None of that new space was built by traditional supermarket retailers; rather, it was added by supercenters, dollar stores, drugstores, and other small formats like fresh specialists and hard discounters. New formats continue to expand, making it more likely that tomorrow’s shopper will have a landscape of options to meet any and all of his or her food retail needs. In this environment, retailers will seek ways to differentiate themselves through merchandise selection, value, convenience, in-store services, customer relationships, and innumerable combinations of these attributes.
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