Grocery ShoppingIf there are "two Americas," there are exponentially more grocery shopping behaviors marked by several distinct trends -- buying natural and organic, gravitating toward private-labels, grabbing items on an as-needed-basis and seeking rock bottom prices.

So you're definitely not alone if you find yourself springing for organic strawberries, only buying soda on sale and walking into a dollar store to stock up on canned goods. This seems to be the new give and take formula, as Americans become more health and environmentally cautious while also fighting for their economic lives.

Here's how grocery-related businesses are responding and how it is influencing what we add to our grocery carts.

Excess Is Out

Renowned retail expert and CEO of Envirosell, Paco Underhill, has written and spoken about this trend. It seems conspicuous consumption has become bad manners. On the grocery side, the age-old "Finish your plate, there are people starving in the world" seems to now be accentuated by the economic undertone "Don't take what you're not going to finish, cause if we can hold off on grocery shopping for one more day that would be great." Moderation is simply smart. One exceptionally savvy shopper I know says he never uses a cart or basket claiming, "If I can't hold it in my arms, I'm not buying it." He happens to be well over six feet with long arms, but the point is well taken and the strategy is sound.

Private Labels Are In

There's no stigma to buying generic and -- in fact -- there seems to be growing cachet in purchasing private label merchandise. Costco (COST) has had particular success with their Kirkland brand and Trader Joe's has practically become a single, brand private label store. Bridget Brennan, CEO of The Female Factor Corporation and author of "Why She Buys," says Target (TGT) stands out as well with this strategy citing their their Archer Farms brand. Watch for potential acceleration of this trend in the U.S.

Organic Is Recession-Proof

Grocers like Whole Foods (WFM) and privately held Trader Joe's are faring well with more recession-proof customers in the higher economic demographic. Last year, overall grocery store sales were up a modest 1.8%, according to the Food Institute, but organics were a bright spot -- doubling that rate of growth at 4.4%. The trend seems to be accelerating with natural and organic items remaining on shoppers lists. A friend of mine in California says in his area, buying organic has become "a given."


The terms "organic" and "natural" can be tricky to decipher, but when the biggest manufacturers are looking to turn traditional "junk food" into something easier to rationalize, you know the trend has gone mainstream. Witness PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) Frito-Lay plans for chips, which can take as little as 24 hours to be made from a whole potato -- farm to bag.

I recently visited what has to be one of the highest-end grocery stores in America -- Whole Foods in Darien, CT. It was packed and while many of the customers appeared to be reading ingredient labels, there didn't seem to be a lot of price-checking. There were wall-to-wall organic offerings and let's just say if you ask for a bag at the checkout, it's an awkward moment.


It's not all about price. Dr. Herb Sorenson, Senior research fellow at TNS and author of "Inside the Mind of the Shopper" points out, "A shopper spends three currencies at retail: time, angst and money. Price is not always in the consumer's consideration set. Convenience and logistics are very real factors, especially when you consider the typical consumer buys only one or a few items per store per trip." He also raises the fact that half of all supermarket trips result in purchases of five items or less. Grabbing a few items on the fly is one of the reasons drugstores like CVS (CVS) and Walgreens (WAG) have groceries on shelves. In keeping with this trend, I find myself doing fewer big (and pricey) grocery store runs and instead opting to get things on an as-needed-basis when I run into them (often at drugstores or gas stations).

Trying Different Places

These days consumers are more open-minded about where they shop, even if that means "trading down." Including all the way down to a dollar store. Brian Todd, President of the Food Institute, confirms "Shoppers are dabbling more. They're fickle, price sensitive and shopping at more places. They have a lot of choices."

Dollar General (DG) is building their business on s simple premise: how low can you go? Prices at Dollar General's nearly 10,000 stores are 22% less than grocery stores, according to their proprietary data. Most things are really under $10, but they do maintain the $1 price point on 228 items despite inflation. And, that's the trick the entire industry is grappling with.

Todd added, "Over the past 20 months grocers are seeing 8-9% increases in wholesale costs and only passing along 1-2%." Needless to say, that can hurt margins. On the flip side, if you pull it off, you'll spark trial and have a shot at building customer trust and loyalty over time.

That's what Walmart (WMT) is banking on with a brand proposition aimed squarely at making things cheaper -- everyday.

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Amr Salah

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June 08 2011 at 2:58 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

nice concept

June 08 2011 at 2:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Love this article! Passing it on to the readers of the Tucson Cooking Examiner. Thank you Regina.

June 07 2011 at 11:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the New York Post needs to write a story on the Food Emporium which is in bankrupt as we speak. Last night i went to purchase salmon which is usually 9.99 salmon steak , increased to14.99 and a fillet at $16.99 and these are farm raised , not natural left to grow in our beautiful oceans, The chinese and Japanese are killing these beautiful fish and capitalizing on these and our country. i would rather eat green leaves then to enjoy the these fish that are slaughterd
and putting money in these idiots pockets., They kill children if it is not a male.. We are feeding them... We need a Donald Trump to find other ways to have our country profit. Donald would have never put Ianka out there to die.
In Jewish, these Chinese and Japanese are all scmucks.

June 07 2011 at 10:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We have a primiative campground in Buchanan Virginia on the James River we hunt we fish. We strive for people to try to enjoy themselves without spending tons of money and getting back to the basics in life which is survival. We take daily so much for granite but my children had a fishing pole in there hands by three of course with assistance but they understand that how rough things can become. We all should take time out and rationalize the things that are occuring with the flooding all over check out 2011 Food shortage world wide. Its scary we all need to learn more and never stop on how to live with only the our true needs.

June 07 2011 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Come on. shopping will never be the same.

June 07 2011 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
God's Child

It's scary to think the economic system migfht escalate in such a negative way to severely, adversely affect our standard of living - and our very survival. I'm subscribing to a newsletter, Stansberry & Associates, to learn my options, so I can survive!

June 07 2011 at 9:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hmmm...people are buying less per trip to the store? Not me! I have already started my own personal food bank. Look around the world, folks. We all pay thousands of $$$$ for home insurance, car insurance, life insurance, health insurance....but how many people have put food in storage as insurance agains a natural disaster or econimc hard times? Better give it some thought.....

June 07 2011 at 8:45 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Meijer is the one I was talking about... Have useen the India clothes... Being forced on American women.. At all the stores.. Jc penny kolh s... Then look at the India dress code no waist.. Etc,,, gi watch the first 4. Seasons if ghost whisper..then look a e change in clothes... India... IWW quit the show that...

June 07 2011 at 8:35 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply