Consumers are looking for value and trying to eat healthier, according to interviews with shoppers from three demographic groups
Amid the current barrage of statistics showing that Americans are eating out less, buying more foods on sale, cooking more at home, eating healthier, clipping coupons and giving up ice cream and other luxuries, among a multitude of other things, Fresh Market has zeroed in on representatives from different demographic groups to see what they personally are up to when it comes to food shopping.
SN talked to a number of consumers, asking where they do their food shopping, how they shop, whether they've changed their shopping habits and what they buy, and how they eat during the week — whether they're cooking, buying frozen or prepared meals, bringing home pizza, going out to eat and so on.
One Rockland County, N.Y., resident, 36-year-old Richard Walsh, told SN he'd do all his family's food shopping at Stew Leonard's [ a four-unit independent based in Norwalk, Conn.] if only there were a Stew's closer to him. He does shop there frequently, but mostly shops at a Pearl River, N.Y., ShopRite.
“Since ShopRite added their new prepared foods section, I can buy things like marinated peppers and olives and freshly made sides so I can concentrate on [cooking] the main course,” said Walsh, who told SN he enjoys cooking and does a lot of it. He said he hadn't given much thought to organics and all-natural products until he and his wife were expecting their first child. It was then that he started looking to buy foods with no additives, and to generally shop for healthier fare.
“I'm just paying more attention to what I'm buying, what we're eating. A lot more fresh vegetables, too, at every meal.”
SN zoomed further in on three disparate demographic groups: a retired couple; a couple in their early 40s, both working full-time; and an early-40s single mother with two sons.
Surprisingly, SN found they had more in common than they had differences. “Eating healthy,” “good quality” and “good taste” topped their priority lists. The younger couple actually said 90% of their purchases are perishables.
Price, however, is a more important consideration nowadays. The single mom said a good Perdue chicken sale will quickly knock other planned items off her week's menu.
Here are their descriptions of a standard food shopping/eating week in response to SN's questioning:
Boynton Beach, Fla.
Major shopping: Publix, BJ's Wholesale Club
I always look for value, so the first thing I do in produce is look to see what fruits and vegetables are on sale.
Publix has cut-up fruit, very fresh. I've been buying that. It's more expensive, but in the long run I think I probably save money, because there's no waste. I used to buy melons and other fruits and cut them up myself, but some would always end up not used. It was a waste of money.
My husband, Sid, is a big grape eater, so we'll buy grapes wherever they're on sale. We usually don't go to Winn-Dixie, but he'll go there for grapes on sale.
Publix has good sales on meat, and I stock up on whatever's on sale. I have seal-a-meal [appliance], so I'll freeze cube steaks, for instance, individually.
I notice that Publix is going a lot into organics, but I don't buy it. I don't believe organic is worth the money.
Sid and I love Publix's bakery. They're well-known for their lovely cakes, and we like their whole grain breads. In the deli, we buy Boar's Head low-salt meats, and always Land 'O Lakes cheese. We stick to those brands. When it comes to rotisserie chickens, though, we both like BJ's better. They're bigger and not so highly spiced as Publix's.
I'll buy one of those chickens and get three meals out of it, cutting some of it up for soup or salad. I know we're eating healthier than we were five years ago. We want to preserve the good health we have. We're very active, and we're both healthier than we were a few years ago.
We don't eat out much at all. A lot of our friends do, but I don't like to eat out. I feel restaurants give you too much, and my husband doesn't like anything fancy-schmancy.
I cook, sometimes separately, for him and for me.
I've definitely become more thrifty. I really look hard at prices. I wanted veal chops the other day, but I put them back. It wasn't worth it, $18 or $19 for the two of us.
We are very aware of the economy. With living expenses going up so much, it has increased our awareness when shopping, and we try to not waste anything.
Since we've been retired, I have time to plan better — for everything, including planning meals and grocery shopping.
DEE ANN & ADAM SCANNIELLO
Age: Early 40s
Occupation: Both in the software industry
Major shopping: Costco, Fry's Signature store
We go to Costco once a week. It's on the way home from work. Then we fill in with shopping at Fry's, their Signature store. Sprouts sometimes. Sprouts is out of my way, but I go there specifically for yogurt and kefir, because Cascade brand has the most live cultures, and I haven't been able to get it anywhere else.
We eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit. At Costco, I can get big containers of lettuce and spinach for three bucks. At a regular supermarket, like Fry's, it's $5 for a smaller package. Cherries at Costco are always sweet and cheaper, and we buy huge packs of blueberries and raspberries. The one fruit we don't ever buy at Costco is bananas. They consistently have no taste.
We like Costco's own store-brand frozen chicken pieces. They're much cheaper than at the supermarket.
Then we buy soda and water and paper goods and dog treats at Costco. Costco has premade meals, and we get those maybe once or twice a month.
We don't keep ad circulars, but when shrimp or scallops are on sale, or crab, we'll buy them.
Impulse buys used to be pastries, but we don't do that anymore. We do buy Ben & Jerry's ice cream or Haagen Dazs when it's on sale.
Fry's has a good deli, with fresh hot dog buns, Adam always points out, and we think they have a phenomenal bakery. When we have visitors, we go right to their pastry section. We have a [Super] Wal-Mart very nearby but seldom go there, unless it's to pick up something we forgot.
What's easy is using our vacuum sealer to freeze single or double portions of meat. It saves us money.
We have an extra freezer in the garage, so we can buy a whole pork loin and cut it into chops and a roast.
When Dream Dinners [one of the first franchised meal-assembly companies] came to this area, we enjoyed going there, but we don't go often anymore, just because we don't particularly like what they are usually offering now.
We eat out once a week, sort of a date night, usually at a nice place.
I'd say 90% of our grocery shopping is made up of perishables — a lot of fruit, vegetables, fresh meat that we freeze in single portions with a vacuum sealer. It hasn't changed that much in the last years, because we've always loved fresh fruit especially.
Pearl River, N.Y.
Age: Early 40s
Occupation: Customer service, medical lab
Major shopping: ShopRite, Pearl River, N.Y.
I'm a single mom with two sons, a teenager and an 8-year-old. My youngest is a finicky eater, and my teenager is on a campaign to eat healthier, so that affects the way I shop. So does my tight budget.
For example, I may not buy as much fruit as I'd like to, and while I'm tempted by — and actually do pick up — some things not on my list, I often put them back.
I go shopping once a week, always at ShopRite. I used to go back in the middle of the week for more milk, but found I bought too much extra [non-budgeted] stuff in addition to the milk. I go to just that one store, because I'm familiar with the layout, and therefore I can get in and out quickly.
I plan meals for the week, but will adjust my menu depending on what I see in the ad circular. For example, Perdue chicken at 40% off will take the place of pork chops, and I always buy the orange juice and the cereal that are on sale.
I stock up on some extra convenience foods that I can throw together fast, such as frozen meatballs for subs or cans of tuna for tuna melts.
I buy fruits on sale if they seem ripe — berries, watermelon, oranges. Since my oldest son has gone on a health kick, I'm buying more fresh vegetables, less soda, healthier cereal (without sugar) and more fish, but hot dogs and cold cuts continue to be staples because they're easy for the kids to fix.
I do buy food from ShopRite's hot food table the day I go shopping. A small container of sauerbraten, which I like a lot, from the hot table, or a tuna sub for my lunch next day. Sometimes I buy steamed vegetables and round that off with a loaf of Italian bread.
I'm tempted to buy more from that hot table because it looks so good, but it's expensive at more than $5 a pound. My kids would like the Chinese food, but it's actually cheaper for us to go to our local Chinese restaurant.
Quality and taste definitely count. I'll buy a store brand, but only if we have found we particularly like it. We do eat out once a week, but it's usually someplace inexpensive, like Subway or the local pizza parlor.