WASHINGTON -- In the new millennium's strong economy, nearly 90% of consumers report high overall satisfaction with their supermarkets, according to the Food Marketing Institute report, "Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket 2000."
verage of 8.2 out of a perfect 10 points, up slightly from last year. A large majority -- 96% -- of shoppers said they would recommend their store to a friend or newcomer.
Store cleanliness, the availability of fresh produce and the presence of a high-quality meat case are the most critical factors in determining where to shop. These factors were selected as "very important" by 90%, 88% and 86%, respectively, of the shoppers surveyed.
Busy shoppers said they want better customer service, especially faster checkouts. Of those surveyed, 61% identified this as "very important" when choosing a supermarket.
Shoppers also said they seek more variety and a wider selection, factors ranked as "very important" by a majority of respondents.
Stores are responding with front-end improvements like ATM or debit card acceptance, now available to most consumers surveyed, and self-checkout or self-scanning systems, available to 14% of respondents -- up 6% from last year's survey. Nearly 96% of stores now have Web sites offering consumers a broad range of information, from store promotions to recipes and food safety tips.
However, on-line shopping options remain rare. Only 9% of the shoppers surveyed report the availability of this service from their primary store.
Other areas important to consumers are accurate shelf tags and low prices.
Grocery shoppers reported spending an average of $85 weekly, allocating 82% to the primary store. Shoppers still prefer to shop at a traditional supermarket, but they also report an increasing interest in patronizing general low-priced discount stores (26%), specialty discount stores (24%), warehouse club stores (14%) and low-price, no-frills stores (11 %).
Bargain hunting continues to increase in popularity, with shoppers more regularly scanning newspaper ads and comparing supermarket prices, according to the study. Shoppers also report steady use (27%) of frequent shopper programs, available to 45% of shoppers.
About 76% of respondents reported eating out at least once a week, up 6% from 1999. This is especially true with shoppers aged 15-24 years old -- nearly 40% eat out three or more times per week.
Purchases of ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat supermarket meals -- once considered to be a formidable competitor with quick-service restaurant meals -- rose steadily throughout the 1990s, but sales declined slightly last year.
However, shoppers are reporting a greater variety in ready-to-go products being offered, including sushi, grilled foods and made-to-order pizza.
The availability of gourmet specialty or ethnic foods fell to 66% in 2000, down from 75% in 1999. However, use of these products remains steady.
Because gourmet and ethnic foods are becoming more mainstream, shoppers may no longer recognize them as "specialty" items, thereby explaining the decline in availability.
The same could be said for organic produce. The survey shows a decline in organic produce availability from 73% to 67% in the last year.
However, organic produce sales actually rose substantially last year, according to the Organic Alliance, St. Paul, Minn., indicating that food retailers' increased integration of these items with traditional produce may make them less noticeable to shoppers.
Almost three-fourths (74%) of those surveyed expressed confidence in food-supply safety. Consumers also named themselves as most responsible for making sure their food is both safe (37%) and nutritious (47%), significantly decreasing reliance on manufacturers.
Consumers who claim to be "very concerned" about nutrition declined to 46%, down from a high of 62% in 1994. However, fat content remains as the top nutritional concern of those surveyed, followed by sodium, cholesterol, sugar, nutritional value, calories and chemical additives.
Asked for the first time about nutraceuticals and functional foods, only 14% of consumers recognized the terms, though 39% reported purchasing an item in the past month for a specific health benefit,and 35% said they've used dietary supplements within the past year.
Despite recent headlines about genetically modified foods, 37% of those surveyed claimed no knowledge of them. More than half -- 54% -- said they would purchase these products for improved taste and 63% if it meant less use of pesticides.