It's Not Your Mother's Grocery Store Any More

Posted: December 17, 2013

Maybe you do it every day, once a week, or once a month--whatever the case, we all spend some amount of time in the grocery store shopping for food.

Have you taken a close look at the products being offered in your grocery store of late? Or the layout? Or the marketing of products? This is not the same grocery store your Mother shopped in, or even you shopped in 10 years ago, and the trends show continued changes to what we the consumer will see in our grocery store in 2014.

Because they operate on a small profit margin, grocery stores are fighting for food dollars that Americans spend on eating out. To do this, they are competing with restaurants by appealing to customer needs. They don’t just offer basic food items that you need to prepare food, they offer the food already prepared. What makes their prepared food unique is that you can see the food before purchase and assess whether it is a healthy option or not. Prepared foods are not only on the perimeter of the store, but scattered throughout each section and aisle. In case you didn’t see if when you first came in, you have a second or third chance to see it and purchase it later.

In many stores, the raw meat counter has shrunk, while the deli and bakery areas have greatly expanded. Delis are just not cold cuts and macaroni salad, but a wide array of choices, such as hot and cold prepared items, grab and go meals, heat and serve pizzas, sushi and a multitude of other choices. The bakery department offers the standard cakes, pies and pastries, but also choices of artesian breads and rolls and single serve portions of decadent, gourmet desserts. I know myself that if I don’t pack a lunch, it is easier to go to the grocery store by my office and make a salad from their salad bar or get a slice of pizza than to go to a restaurant for lunch.

Another marketing focus you may see is what is called “leg up” marketing. This is where an item is bigger, more natural, more flavorful, certified, sustainable, more colorful or exotic than the competition. Examples of this are candy bars, the wide variety of tomatoes you can buy, multiple colors of peppers, potatoes, beets and exotic items, such as watermelon filets. Many stores have increased the amount of space given to organic food items. In some cases, they are in their own section of the store or strategically intermixed with other foods. 

Another trend is “kits”. With kits the consumer has all the ingredients prepped and packaged together, so that all they have to do is mix them when they get home. While these items have been in the frozen food section for some time, now fresh food kits are available in the produce section. Here you can find prepackaged salad kits for Caesar salad, stir fry veggies, coleslaw and guacamole kits, to name a few. Over the holidays, you will see a bin of fresh sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows, brown sugar, canned pineapple, and even a baking pan, displayed all together to make it easy for the shopper to get all of their sweet potato casserole ingredients in one spot.

For many items, there are overwhelming choices. When selecting orange juice, bread or even yogurt, you can spend lots of time trying to decide what to purchase.  These choices are driven by customer demand. In the yogurt section, Greek yogurt has taken over the display case, and the other yogurts and some other dairy products are receiving less space often meaning fewer choices. Gluten free product offerings are expanding as well, as this is a trend among consumers, whether they require a gluten free diet or not.

In larger markets and stores, a new trend for 2014 is the “buy and make” section. Many people in their 20’s and even 30’s have minimal cooking skills or do not know how to cook but want to prepare healthier foods for themselves or their families. The “buy and make” area allows the shopper to buy the food ingredients for a healthy meal and then prepare the meal onsite with the assistance of a qualified individual to guide them through the process. Many such markets also offer online ordering and delivery of groceries, so you don’t even have to leave your home.
So the next time you are at the grocery store, take a look around and see if any of these trends are appearing in your area. Happy grocery shopping!
Source: Economic Research Service, USDA