Where consumers shop shifts back to supermarkets, ‘bucking the trend toward mass’

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Tom Werner
Source: Getty/Tom Werner

Related tags Grocery shopping

Consumers are returning to brick-and-mortar supermarkets as their primary destination to buy groceries – reversing the steady migration toward mass over the past decade and the more recent rush to online that occurred during the pandemic, according to new research by FMI – The Food Industry Association.

“Supermarkets continue to be the primary store of choice for the broad majority of shoppers. In fact, 40% of shoppers cite the supermarket as their main store of choice – bucking the trend toward mass that has been taking place over the past decade,” said Laurie Demeritt, CEO and owner of The Hartman Group, which conducted FMI’s annual survey, US Grocery Shopper Trends 2024: Finding Value​, released last week.

The percentage of shoppers citing supermarkets as their primary destination for food is up 2 percentage points from 2023, and appears to have stabilized in general since 2021. In the past four years, supermarket’s share has vacillated between 38% and 40%. This stabilization is lower, though, than 10 years ago when supermarkets captured 52% of share.

“Historically, supermarkets have been far and away the most popular store option. As recently as 2019, twice as many shoppers at 49% [said] they primarily shop for food at the supermarket as they did at a mass store at 24%. That gap shrunk significantly from 2020 to 2023 – with supermarkets’ advantage shrinking from 38% to 33% over mass last year,” Hartman said.

Noting that 32% of shoppers say they use a mass store as a primary food shopping option, Hartman adds that the erosion supermarkets experienced occurred in part because shoppers visited more stores and channels – including online – on a regular basis.

“However, this year, we have seen a shift towards a more simplified store mix, with supermarkets gaining some ground as the primary store preference,” Demeritt said.

Supermarkets’ growth in popularity comes in part from fewer consumers shopping online regularly for groceries – another notable shift from recent years, according to the report.

“The number of consumers who say they shop online for groceries almost every time has steadily decreased to almost pre-pandemic levels at about 10%, Demeritt said. This is down from a high of 17% in February of 2021 during the height of Americans’ fear of COVID and social distancing.

“On the other hand, the frequency of occasional online grocery shopping has grown significantly over the past four years. Perhaps not surprising, in March of 2020, 49% of shoppers reported that they shopped for groceries online occasionally. Today, 67% of shoppers report shopping for groceries online on occasion. The steady growth of occasional online grocery shopping has been driven largely by younger shoppers – 84% of Gen Z and 81% of millennials report shopping online for groceries occasionally. And that is compared to just 49% of boomers,” Demeritt said.

Why do shoppers gravitate to different channels as their primary grocery destination?

The report found the main reasons consumers travel to a supermarket as their primary store are for better quality or variety of foods (cited by 40% of consumers compared to 28% who primarily shop mass), and better variety or selection of grocery products (cited by 41% of supermarket shoppers vs 35% of mass shoppers).

The top reason consumers travel to a primary store, however, is price – for which 62% of consumers cited as why they shop mass compared to 41% of supermarket shoppers, according to the report.

“As supermarkets and mass continue to compete for primary store status there does not seem to be one single consideration that determines which store shoppers select as their primary store,” FMI CEO Leslie Sarasin said.

But, she added, there are common drivers. For example, “across all channels, high quality fruits and vegetables and great product selection are among the many factors that impact shoppers choices.”

Likewise, she noted, “while low prices are clearly a desirable feature for all shoppers, it is more important at mass, club and other channels than it is at supermarkets.”

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