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Brick-and-Mortar, E-Commerce Play Key Roles for Grocery Consumers

The U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends study from the Food Marketing Institute looked at the roles that brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce play for the consumer.

The survey found that grocery spending and shopping trips remain relatively steady. Shoppers reported spending an average of $109 per week in 2018, which was consistent with 2017, and spending has only been inching up slowly over the long term. Despite the growth of e-commerce, the average shopper continues to report about 1.5 weekly shopping trips to a brick-and-mortar grocer.

Shared shopping in multi-person households revealed additional household trips, especially those by male shoppers. The average shopper reported that in addition to the 1.6 weekly trips he or she takes, other household members take another 0.6, so the total number of weekly grocery trips per household is about 2.2. When living alone, men shop for groceries 27% more than women living alone do, taking

1.5 trips per week, while women take 1.2 trips. But when living with another adult, men report 1.7 trips each week for themselves and 0.9 for others (2.6 in total), while women report 1.6 trips for themselves and 0.7 for others (2.3 in total).

Male and female shoppers appear to underestimate their partner’s contributions, but by different amounts. Shoppers agreed that women continue to take on the large share of the household’s grocery trips, as men credit their female partners with 35% of trips, while women credit them with 30% of trips. Shoppers were unaware of their co-shopper’s grocery trips to a surprising degree, so it might be challenging for retailers to get a full picture of household shopping from individual shopper surveys.

Co-shopping continues to be a common strategy, especially for adult-only households, as 85% of all U.S. adults report at least 50% of household responsibility for grocery shopping. About one quarter of shoppers are self-shoppers, another quarter share shopping equally and nearly half see themselves as the primary shopper. Households with multiple adults but no children tend to share shopping duties more evenly, while 72% of households with children have a primary shopper.

Since 2015, about 50% of grocery shoppers have named supermarkets as their primary store. While the number of channels used by the average shopper continues to grow, the supermarket channel has become stable in its primary role.

Consumers are most looking for high-quality fruits and vegetables (80%), high-quality meat (77%), low prices (77%) and great product selection and variety (74%) in their primary store. When it comes to private brands, fresh perimeter categories are the most widely used, with milk or non-dairy substitutes taking the top spot (59%), followed by fresh bakery items (58%).

The growth of online grocery shopping is being fueled by shoppers of all generations. E-commerce seems to have reached a tipping point among Millennials. While 2017 saw a 15 percentage point increase of online-only services from 2016, this year, Millennial adoption of online grocery shopping stayed at 43%.

However, online is still popular for Millennial parents, at 58% in 2018, especially in the fresh perimeter food categories, and they’re the most avid users of digital tools for their families’ grocery shopping.

Despite this, it was other cohorts who most significantly led gains in online grocery shopping. GenX and Baby Boomers are joining the online grocery trend through increasing use of the ship-to-home method and online orders for pickup at the local store. 

While 10% of the GenX cohort and 6% of Boomers used standard shipping to home in 2017, those percentages increased to 14% and 11% in 2018. In 2017, 4% of the GenX cohort and 2% of Boomers utilized online order pickups at local stores, while the report found percentages for those cohorts increased to 10% and 5% in 2018.

Consumers now shop not only with retailers whose primary business is online, but those where online ordering is a touchpoint added onto a strong brick-and-mortar presence. Online shoppers are more likely to be male (51%), Millennials (47%), parents (36%), college-educated (54%) and earning a household income of more than $100,000 (34%).

Online shoppers approach grocery shopping differently, the study found. Three quarters of online shoppers have all or most responsibility for grocery shopping, compared to 68% for other shoppers, 13% have online meal kit subscriptions (while 1% of other shoppers do) and 32% take part in takeout, pickup and delivery (while 11% of other shoppers do). Online shoppers are more deliberate about meal and trip planning, as they shop to the recipe and do more online and offline research when preparing for a trip. When shopping at a primary store that is not their closest store, they do so to seek a better selection of products versus seeking lower prices.

Brick-and-mortar stores continue to earn consumers’ trust because they deliver choice, fresh quality and connection. There is no clear evidence that the average shoppers’ online grocery orders take away from the total number of trips that the shopper makes to the store, leaving the opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers to retain a substantial share of these consumers’ wallets through in-person engagement and inspiration, the study noted.

Millennials continue to lead the way online in using same-day and next-day delivery (19%), as well as subscribing to meal kits (12%) and foodservice (28%).

Despite the online shopper base expanding, center-store categories are still seeing the highest sales, although fresh items are gaining. Fresh prepared items (10%), milk and non-dairy products (20%) and fresh meats (19%) all registered a slight increase in online purchases.

Millennials, especially those with children, continue to regularly use their smartphone in the grocery aisle. For instance, 56% of Millennials with children use at least one grocery-related app, while 32% of Millennials without children, 34% of GenX and 25% of Boomers do. This cohort is most likely to use a smartphone to look up recipes (77%), check weekly sale specials at a primary store (73%) and read reviews of products and brands (64%).

For the full story, go to this week’s Food Institute Report.