WASHINGTON -- Consumers in Mexico are spending nearly 27% more each week on food than they did in 1996, although real buying power has fallen because of escalating inflation, according to a survey by Food Marketing Institute here and ANTAD, the Mexico-based food association.
The survey indicated that the average Mexican shopper patronizing a supermarket in 1998 spent $50.47 a week (407 pesos at an exchange rate of $1 equals 8.064 pesos), compared with $40.30 spent weekly at corner stores and $38.07 at specialty stores.
However, looking at all groceries purchased regardless of outlet, the survey indicated the average consumer in Mexico spent $45.26 a week in 1998, up $9.55, or 26.7%, over 1996.
However, that increase did not keep pace with the rate of overall inflation, which was 27.7% in 1996 and a combined 29.2% over the last two years (15.7% in 1997 and 13.5% in 1998), the survey indicated.
"These facts confirm that the real buying power for Mexicans has decreased, even though there was an increase in minimum wages of 12% in 1996 and 17% in 1997," the survey said.
The report is called "Trends in Mexico: Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket 1998." It is based on personal interviews with 801 randomly-selected Mexican consumers in January 1998. It was conducted by The Gallup Organization and funded by Coca-Cola Mexico. The survey was conducted in Mexico's three largest cities -- Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey -- and in four smaller cities; which accounted for 8% of the sample.
According to the survey, the number of consumers who preferred shopping at supermarkets declined in 1998 to 57%, compared with 59% in 1996 and 65% a year earlier, while those who preferred specialty stores rose to 30%, up from 27% two years ago and 21% three years ago.
The survey said Mexican shoppers preferred shopping at a variety of outlets for different needs: covered markets for perishables (fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken, meat and seafood), corner markets for carbonated drinks, milk and eggs, and specialty stores for tortillas and fresh breads.
Asked which items they were most likely to purchase at a supermarket, 76% of respondents listed health and beauty-care products (down from 79% two years ago); 66% named detergents and cleaning products (down from 77%), and 57% cited packaged-food products (down from 69%). According to the survey, the proportion of consumers who said they bought packaged foods in general declined to 78% in 1998, compared with 90% in 1996.
While men spent more per week than women, and married couples spent more than singles, the survey revealed that households without children spent $52.58 a week, compared to $43.28 a week for households with children under 18 -- "in part because the childless households usually comprise two working spouses whose household income is higher than households with children," the report noted.
The survey also said consumers with a college education or higher outspent those with no formal education or only a primary school education -- $51.59 a week, compared with $38.57.
According to the survey, the three most frequently purchased food items in Mexico are tortillas, milk and fresh bread, with 69% buying tortillas daily, 59% buying milk and 45% buying fresh bread.
"It is not unusual for Mexican shoppers to purchase certain items daily or even more frequently," the survey said. "Storage space and refrigeration may be minimal in some Mexican kitchens, and a heavy dependence on fresh items translates into frequent shopping trips."
Among other survey findings:
When respondents were asked what improvements they would like to see in their stores, 33% listed more staffing, including better service, more knowledgeable sales people and more store personnel, while 29% cited better facilities, including cleaner stores and a better layout.
Price was less of a concern, with only 27% of respondents mentioning it as a desirable improvement, compared with 40% who cited it in 1996 -- "a significant decrease that suggests either stores have already improved their pricing strategies or the economy has rallied to the extent that price sensitivity among shoppers has eased, or a combination of both factors," the survey said.
However, the biggest single motivating factor for switching food stores in 1998 was better prices, cited by 45% of respondents (compared with 62% in 1996), followed by location (28%, compared with 17% two years ago) and better selection (16%, compared with 12%).
Concerning nutrition, 48% of shoppers said they were somewhat or very concerned about the vitamin and mineral content of the food they eat (identical to 1996), while 26% expressed concerned about protein content (up from 20%), 19% with calorie content (up from 7%) and 16% with fat content (up from 7%).
In the U.S., fat content was the highest priority for 59% of consumers, and while 24% of Americans said they were concerned with sodium content, only 2% of Mexicans expressed a similar concern.
Regarding food safety, 94% of respondents said it was the top factor that influenced their choice of food stores, compared with 92% who cited personal safety, low prices and variety.
Confidence by Mexican shoppers in the safety of their food dropped from prior years, with 70% expressing confidence, compared with 82% in 1995 and 1996.
"One reason for the decline may be the increase in awareness about the importance of food safety, with more stores and government agencies informing people about risk factors and the importance of safe handling and preparation of foods," the survey explained. "Increased awareness can led to increased anxiety about the food consumers buy."
Twenty-two percent of respondents said they were concerned with unsanitary handling, compared with 14% two years ago, and 15% said they were concerned with food additives, compared with 9% in 1996.
Attitudes about who is responsible for food safety have shifted, with 42% of respondents saying it was up to them to make sure foods they purchased were safe, compared with 58% in 1996. Instead of assuming responsibility themselves, 13% of shoppers said it was up to consumer groups, compared with 4% in 1996, while 10% said it was up to the store, compared with 6% two years ago.
"The change is precipitated in part by the efforts by consumer groups to inform shoppers about food safety, and ... shoppers in turn begin to expect these organizations will work to keep food safe," the survey explained.
Supermarket shoppers in Mexico have remained consistent in their buying habits over the past five years, with 88% continuing to buy only what they need on each trip while 24% make impulse purchases. The survey also said 33% of shoppers bought unplanned items if they were on sale.
With multiple responses allowed, 93% of Mexican respondents said they paid cash for groceries and 9% used credit cards.
While only 16% of supermarket shoppers switched stores last year, 51% who said they did were looking for better prices, 30% for better locations and 21% for variety or selection.
Dining out was on the upswing last year in Mexico, with people eating away from home 3.5 times a month, compared with 3.9 times in 1993 -- before devaluation of the Mexican peso, which resulted in a drop to 2.1 times a month in 1995 and 1.7 times a month in 1996.
Shopper Comparison in Mexico vs. the U.S. (chart)
Shoppers in Mexico and the United States have different approaches to food shopping, as the following chart indicates:
ACTIVITY MEXICO U.S.
Weekly household grocery bill (in U.S. dollars) $45.26* $87
Number of stores visited 2.8 per week 2.7 per month
Buy only what is needed every visit 53% 17%
Buy unplanned items on sale 10% 19%
Changed food store in last year 14% 17%
Reason for change:
Better prices 45% 37%
Better location 28% 33%
More Variety 16% 18%
Converted at an exchange rate of $1 U.S. equals 8.064 pesos.
Consumer Confidence in Food Safety (chart)
Mexican consumers said they generally have faith in the safety of the food products they buy, although the percent of those saying they had complete confidence in the safety of food fell sharply recently.