Consumers are willing to shop at regional food chains and independents who offer significant points of competitive difference, according to a report conducted for the National Grocers Association by Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru and a contributing editor to SN.

“The more personalized the shopping experience at friendly, nimble regional supermarkets, the greater their edge over retailers less connected to communities and less empowered to please people as personal situations arise,” the study said.

According to the study, which was conducted late last year among the chief shopper in nearly 1,400 households, consumers want more nutritional support to help them eat healthier, with more professionals on the selling floor to help guide their buying decisions; time-saving checkouts; new products that help avoid meal tedium; a feeling of safety around the store; marketing and promotional programs tailored to their specific needs; and online ordering services.

“Regional mastery of these points helps overcome regionals’ lack of financial clout to strike deals as deeply as big-box, online and near-national competitors,” the study pointed out.

Read more: SN's 2014 List of Small Chains and Independents

The survey’s findings included the following:

• The number of respondents rating “accurate shelf tags” as very important rose 5 points from last year’s survey, to 79.6%, “[which] shows how closely shoppers are watching their wallets.”

• Personal safety outside the store was considered very important by 64.5% of respondents, 3 points higher than a year ago, “[which] shows it’s not just what’s inside the store that counts.”


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• The number of respondents rating “courteous, friendly employees” as very important rose 10 points to 59.2%, “[which] shows people want to be appreciated and respected for the business they give a retailer.”

• Those rating “convenient location” as very important rose nearly 17% to 53%, reflecting tight time constraints and high gas prices. “But location still provides no lock on consumers in a neighborhood [because] there is too much competition,” it noted.

• The number of respondents rating “fast checkout” as very important rose nearly 9 points to 48.9%. “People are tantalizingly close to the store exit and want to expedite this part of the shopping trip,” the report explained.

• “Easier store layouts” were cited by 51.2% of respondents, up almost 8 points from a year earlier, “[because] navigable aisles mean time saved for shoppers and fewer distractions from the purpose of their trip.”

• The number of respondents who said they spend more than half their fresh-food dollars in supermarkets rose to 85.9%, the highest total ever.

The survey said the strength of fresh foods dovetails with consumers’ desire to eat healthier and to seek advices from nutritionists and dietitians, who were rated behind the Internet as the most trusted resource for nutritional information, ahead of industry journals, magazines and physicians. However, it found 53.1% of respondents said the presence of dietitians was poor.

“If this reflects demand for a more visible dietitian presence on the selling floor, it suggests a way food stores could add to their wellness authority and help people eat smarter overall,” the report stated.

Read more: Obesity battle: The role of supermarkets

Among other findings:

• Asked about their preferred store size, 55.7% said they like stores of between 30,000 and 50,000 square feet.

• Asked what improvements they would like to see, 36.1% of respondents said price savings; 31.1% said more locally grown foods; and 25.2% said they wanted more variety.

• Asked whether they were more likely to shop in a supermarket that supports causes, 30.7% said no and 16.1% said yes, with others citing pricing and the specific cause as determining factors. However, 56% said they would not mind if prices rose to allow for donations “as long as the price difference was no more than 2%.”

The top causes consumers said they want supermarkets to support were relieving hunger; education; supporting people in disaster-stricken areas; environment; disease prevention; and veterans.

• Asked how to improve the checkout experience, 51.4% said they want more open lanes to reduce wait time; 21.8% said they wanted cashiers and baggers to be more careful handling merchandise; and 18% said they’d like more self-checkouts.

• Just over 20% of respondents said they spend more than $136 a week on food in all stores, with nearly one-third of consumers shopping twice a week and another third once a week.

• Asked what concerns them most about the foods they eat, 19.3% of respondents mentioned a desire to be healthy or to eat what’s good for them, while 16.1% cited chemical additives.

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