No matter where we are or what we eat, the majority of us have to go out to buy food. For most, going to the grocery store is a fundamental component of daily life, like doing the laundry and paying bills. In 2016, FMI research concluded that US consumers spent an average of $101 a week ($5,564 annually) on “grocery-type” items, which was up $6 from 2015.
Over the years, stores and products have changed, but the way we obtain them has remained relatively the same. We make our lists, drive to the store, grab a cart and descend upon the aisles, trying to pick our way through the sensory overload that is the present-day grocery store.
Are we due for a change? Can we get hovering grocery carts so we don’t have to struggle with the inevitably damaged wheel? Maybe not yet, but here are four, much more realistic grocery trends to continue watching this year:
1. Online Grocery Shopping
The concept is self-explanatory, and certainly isn’t a new trend, but nonetheless it is still significantly affecting the grocery industry.
The appeal of this new method of grocery shopping is an obvious one – one of consumers’ most odious tasks has now become someone else’s problem. Selecting groceries from the comfort of one’s couch eliminates the patience-testing hassle that is a trip to the grocery store, and gives consumers back the one thing they cherish the most – their time.
Top grocers like Walmart, Hy-Vee, Whole Foods, Kroger and Safeway have all rolled out their own online grocery services. According to Business Insider, in 2016 Walmart announced they would invest more than $900 million in the coming year into web development, with a focus on expanding the online grocery service.
2. Smaller Product Selection
Today’s consumers are more informed than ever, thanks to the internet, and mobile phones making information available 24/7. When it comes to groceries, they know what they want, and are therefore less willing to sift through the overwhelming clutter of a superstore to get it. This is why smaller format stores have gained popularity.
Walmart was one of the first big-box retailers to recognize the potential of this concept, and in the late 1990’s introduced the Neighborhood Market. These smaller-scale stores measure an average of 42,000 square feet and carry 29,000 SKUs; compared to the average Supercenter, which measures 187,000 square feet and carries 142,000 SKUs.
Other companies have found success with the smaller format concept as well. The average Sprouts Farmers’ Market is anywhere from 28,000-30,000 square feet and the 365 by Whole Foods Market stores measure an average of 30,000 square feet.
3. Crafted Store Experiences
One of the most important keys to success, in any industry, is differentiation. So how does a grocer set itself apart from every other store, where the main idea is still, and always will be, a place for people to buy food?
Wegmans, the increasingly-popular northeastern chain, is facing this challenge head on. At its core, Wegmans is not meant to feel like a grocery store. Its open-air market layout, restaurant quality in-house cafeterias, wine tastings and live music are just some of the ways Wegmans differentiates itself from the competition.
And the customers love it. American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked Wegmans as ‘America’s #1 Favorite Grocery Retailer’ in 2016. In 2015, more than 4,000 people reached out to Wegmans requesting a new store be built in their neighborhood. And in 2011, 25,000 people came to a store opening in Northborough, Mass. (the town’s population is just over 14,000). There were no freebies, opening specials or sales, and still the queues lined up thousands strong.
This type of brand loyalty – the type that generates a fan base called, “Wegmaniacs”, and the inspiration behind a high school play, is the product of Wegmans’ differentiation strategy. By making a visit to their stores feel like an experience, instead of a chore, Wegmans found a way to shake up the grocery industry.
Another differentiation specialist is Whole Foods Market. Do you feel a little bit better about yourself after shopping at Whole Foods? That’s intentional. Everything from the farmer’s market-style produce section to the restaurant-quality prepared foods is designed to set Whole Foods apart.
Whole Foods’ Landmark store in Austin, Texas, located just a few blocks away from the company’s birthplace, is a melting pot of experiences. Fifth Street Seafood, reminiscent of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, offers more than 150 fresh seafood items and on-the-spot shucking, cooking, smoking, slicing and frying; and at Candy Island, you can dip your treats into a chocolate fountain. The Natural Home department has organic cotton apparel, linens and towels; Whole Baby is complete with baby food, diapers and other necessities; and in the Whole Body section customers can get a 25-minute deep tissue massage.
4. Pre-portioned and Prepared Meals
Pre-portioned meals have recently been made popular by subscription services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. A pre-determined number of meals is delivered to your door each week, complete with a recipe packet and all the ingredients needed to make each meal – all you have to do is cook them. These services allow consumers to hold on to that feeling of accomplishment after cooking a delicious meal, while minimizing the hassles of shopping and ingredient preparation.
Meals that are already cooked further simplify the process. These ready-to-heat/ready-to-eat types can usually be found near the entrance of the grocery store, and are either ready to eat as is, like a salad or deli sandwich; or just need to be heated up, like a premade lasagna or plate of chicken tenders.
Pre-portioned and prepared meals are exceedingly popular because of their inherent ease and simplicity. The grab-and-go concept allows the consumer to save time on preparing a meal, without sacrificing quality.
The intrinsic need to find a food source is never going to change, but the methods we use to fulfill this need will continue to evolve, just as we do.