WASHINGTON -- African American shoppers tend to appreciate a store's community involvement, avoid private-label products and cook more meals from scratch than consumers in general, according a report released earlier this month by the Food Marketing Institute here.
The African American Grocery Shopper 2000 noted that African Americans form a growing $47 billion market segment of the food-buying public. Jointly sponsored by Kraft and Procter & Gamble, the first-ever FMI study of African American shoppers examines the attitudes and preferences of this diverse group -- projected to number over 40 million by 2010 -- and the marketing strategies retailers can use to reach them.
Similar to most U.S. consumers, African American shoppers seek high-quality food, friendly service and low prices in deciding where to shop. The top five factors that African American shoppers consider are: a clean, neat store; fresh, high-quality meats; fresh, high-quality produce; courteous and friendly employees, and variety. Other factors that these shoppers consider when deciding where to shop include safety outside the store, particularly in urban areas; community involvement by the store; the presence of African-American employees and managers, and store features such as bakeries, banking services and pharmacies.
The study reveals that African American grocery shoppers make an average of 2.2 trips to their primary grocery store in a typical week and spend an average of $94 each week, with more than three-quarters of that amount ($73) spent at their primary grocery store.
In general, these shoppers make more trips to the grocery store and spend more per household than mainstream consumers. They are also looking for ways to save money. Sales, money-saving specials and coupons are important to this market.
Although 50% of African American grocery shoppers prefer supermarkets, one in five shop at small, non-supermarket neighborhood stores most often. Since this market segment is predominantly urban, the frequent patronage of small-format stores is likely due to store locations and transportation access.
On the whole, this market is predominately female (74%), urban (66%), with nearly half living in the South (47%). African Americans have a median household income of $31,000 each year and an average household size of 2.9 people.
The study identifies four shopper segments based on the above demographics and on the shopping habits and attitudes among African American shoppers: Low-Price Seekers, Culturally Aware Shoppers, Satisfied Shoppers and Basic Buyers.
Low-Price Seekers have the lowest annual household income among the four and spend the least on groceries. They are sensitive to price and lack brand loyalty. Most of them live in urban areas and spend less than $50 a week on groceries.
Culturally Aware Shoppers seek both high-quality products and extra features. They are also the segment most likely to shop at stores that have African American ownership, management and customers, and that sell products manufactured by minority-owned companies. They are especially interested in frequent shopper/reward programs. More than any other segment, they demand to be treated with respect by all store employees. Satisfied Shoppers have relatively higher household incomes ($36,200) and easygoing attitudes toward grocery shopping. They look forward to grocery shopping and value certain cultural cues, such as African American employees and customers and products manufactured by minority-owned companies. They are also active in loyalty/rewards programs.
Basic Buyers primarily look for the "basics" in a grocery store. They do not enjoy grocery shopping, tend to shop at large chain stores and are loyal to the brands they currently buy. They are especially interested in fresh, high-quality meats, produce and products, and fast checkout lines. Cultural cues are less important.
In targeting this market, the study suggests that retailers include the following messages in their marketing efforts:
Emphasize fresh, high-quality products. Ninety percent of African American grocery shoppers value high-quality products, especially meat and produce.
Offer a wide variety of products and be well organized. Most African American customers like having many options to choose from at the grocery store (81%). At the same time, however, they are also the most likely market segment to feel overwhelmed by the different varieties and alternatives available (37%).
Focus on low prices, sales and money-saving specials. Seventy-eight percent rate sale items and money-saving specials as important.
Use hands-on strategies to influence purchase decisions at the grocery store. This could include the use of special displays and free samples.
Treat all customers with respect and courtesy. Eighty-seven percent of African American shoppers say these are important in deciding where to shop. The same number say it is absolutely essential that they be treated with respect by all store employees.
Survey results also offer insights about attitudes and preferences that may be more important to African American shoppers. Suggestions for retailers include:
Make contributions to and participate in the local community. Three in five African American grocery shoppers (61%) consider this important. Contributions must truly add value to the community rather than be self-serving for the retailer.
Be sensitive to "cultural cues," especially having African American employees and managers. More than half of African American grocery shoppers surveyed (59%) say it is important that the grocery stores where they shop have African American employees and/or managers.
Expand the variety of what might be considered "ethnic foods." Regional areas influence food preferences. While the majority of African American shoppers prepare "Soul/Southern style" food, ethnic types of food such as Caribbean, Creole/Cajun, Tex-Mex/Mexican, Italian and Chinese are also popular with African Americans.
Remember that the African American grocery shopping market is not an undifferentiated mass market. They are a varied group with different shopping habits and grocery store needs. However, it is important to note that location of residence, household income levels and other demographic characteristics make a difference in what shoppers want and need, regardless of race.
Recognize the difficulty of promoting private label brands to consumers who prefer well-known national brands. African Americans tend to prefer well-known brands. Those from high-income households ($50,000 or more per year) are the most likely to be open to choosing new brands of groceries (76%).
Provide ingredients and staples for "scratch cooking" because African Americans more often choose to prepare meals from scratch rather than to use convenience foods. They typically cook their main meal -- eaten at home -- from scratch.