Food Safety Issues Change Shopping Behavior

Food safety issues are changing consumer shopping behavior, according to News and Trends Editor Diane Toops in her monthly installment.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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Foodborne illness outbreaks and energy costs are significantly changing consumer shopping behavior and attitudes, according to the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2007.

In fact, according FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds, consumer confidence in the food supply plummeted to 66 percent, compared to 82 percent in 2006, and could be approaching a tipping point, or critical mass.

The survey of 2,307 U.S. shoppers, which was conducted in January 2007 during the contaminated spinach scare, found safety concerns prompted 38 percent of consumers to stop purchasing certain foods, up from 9 percent in 2006. Food most often avoided included: spinach (71 percent), lettuce (16 percent), bagged salad (9 percent) and beef (8 percent). Although consumers feel it is their responsibility to make sure the foods they eat are safe (54 percent), 45 percent hold manufacturers accountable and say a problem is most likely to occur at the processing or manufacturing level, up from 32 percent in 2006.

"These findings send a strong message to the entire food industry," says Hammonds. "All of us need to work together to be sure our consumers continue to receive the high quality, affordable food they have every right to expect."

High priced fuel and home heating costs also are driving changes in shopping for 41 percent of consumers. One of the most profound changes is that consumers made 1.9 trips to the grocery store, the first time the average dropped below twice a week. Shoppers also say price plays a dominant role in their new product choices (63 percent), and shoppers with children are even more price-conscious (75 percent).

The average supermarket carries 45,000 SKUs. SKUs must contribute a meaningful ROI per square foot for all stores regardless of format, known as weekly sales per item. The average return is 14 cents.

Some other details:

  • 56 percent purchase more store-brand foods rather than national brands.
  • 69 percent cook more and eat out less than they used to.
  • 62 percent eat more leftovers or use leftovers to make other meals.
  • 40 percent purchase fewer food items overall.
  • 30 percent buy more canned, frozen or boxed food as opposed to fresh.
  • 21 percent purchase more prepared meals from the grocery store rather than going out.

Wellness doesn't seem to be registering at the grocery prepared meals counter. Top selling items include rotisserie chicken, fried chicken, BBQ chicken, broasted chicken, chicken tenders, potato salad, subs and sandwiches, cole slaw, pizza, steak tips, burritos, pasta salad, "home-made" Italian beef and tomato cheddar soup.

Health and cost concerns lead consumers to cook more meals at home. Some 92 percent say the food they eat at home is healthier than the meals eaten away from home, and 78 percent eat home cooked meals three or more times a week. Consumers hold widely different views about what constitutes a home cooked meal. Responses range from a meal "made from scratch that takes about an hour to two hours to prepare" to "one that involves me turning on the stove, oven or microwave for longer than two minutes."

Other key findings include:

  • Shoppers spend an average of $93.20 per week per household ($62.20 for one person, $83.20 for a two-person household, $107.20 for three people and $131.40 for five or more).
  • 62 percent believe their diets could be more healthful.
  • 20 percent say someone in their household is on a diet.
  • Most dieters observe their own regimen (62 percent), followed by Atkins (12 percent), South Beach (6 percent), other low-carb (15 percent). Dieters also cite Weight Watchers (12 percent), Slimfast (11 percent) and 5 percent each for Curves, Dr. Phil, Edlets and Jenny Craig.

Predictions by respondents are notable. In the next five years, nearly one-quarter expect the food supply to be hit by a major terrorist attack. By 2012, they expect the growth of one- and two-person households will be so strong that products will be tailored for this group, and slightly less than 20 percent anticipate organic products will account for more than one-third of sales; the same amount expect special taxes on products considered high in fat or calories.

Consumers' top food safety concerns
Bacteria/germ contamination   49%
Product tampering   43%
Terrorist tampering    38%
Avian influenza    38%
Pesticide and herbicide residues  37%
Source: FMI's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2007
Top 10 package claims
Shoppers seeking claim
Whole grain    59%
Low fat    56%
High fiber    51%
Low sodium    48%
Low calorie    45%
Low sugar    44%
No trans fat    42%
Low/lowers cholesterol  37%
Vitamin/mineral enriched  35%
Calcium fortified   33%
Source: FMI's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2007
American demographics
Total population  301,527,555
Male 49%
Female 51%
Median age    36.4
18 years and older 74.5%
65 years and older 12.1%
Hispanic population 14.2%
Average household size  2.60
Speak language other than English at home   19.4%
Median household income  $46,242
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Feb. 2007
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