Getting fresh down the aisles

Consumers’ choice of supermarket for their weekly grocery shop is now driven by value for money and freshness of produce, not ethical, social or environmental issues or proximity to home

Fresh%20food%2C%20supermarketsWhat makes us choose the supermarket we visit for our weekly grocery shopping? Traditionally, people have said that it is proximity to home or workplace, but when people become dissatisfied with a product, brand or supplier they are now more likely to change their behaviour or shift allegiances to put things right.

When a sample of 1,000 supermarket shoppers was asked to consider which were most important in their choice of main supermarket for their weekly shopping, the results showed that “value for money” and “freshness of produce” were the primary drivers. These top two factors were closely followed by “high quality produce”, “variety” and then, slightly behind these, “product availability”.

All five came significantly higher than “convenience of location”, “trust” and “level of customer service” – areas which have historically been closer to the top of the pile. Location will always have an important role to play from a practical perspective but the results suggest consumers are more likely and more able to shop around than they used to.

And despite being in the minds of consumers – due to a focus in the media and advertising – the results show that ethical, social and environmental issues are towards the bottom of the hierarchy. It would seem that they are not primary drivers in the choice of retail outlet but rather peripheral considerations.

This finding supports other research indicating that although these issues enter consumers’ consciousness, only a very small segment of the population is driven to the point where such concerns affect their purchasing behaviour. These more socially and environmentally conscious consumers are often more highly educated with a higher income.

This conclusion gains weight when we look at the hierarchy by social groups where there is a weak but clear relationship between the importance of “organic” and ethics across the class spectrum.

With the increasing pressure on consumer spending due to the uncertain economic climate and expected increases in the prices of grocery items, it is not surprising that value is so important.

Although “value for money” is seen as the top driver of choice among a representative consumer sample, it is also the factor where most changes are seen in its relative importance to freshness, quality and variety when key socio-demographic and shopper subgroups are looked at.

As might be expected, the role of value for money is of lower importance when compared with freshness and quality for those in the higher social classes. Also related is the size of weekly food budget, with those with the largest budgets slightly more focused on freshness and quality.

When looking at the big four grocery retailers – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda – there is little difference in the overall hierarchy among people using these stores, although analysis does show that Sainsbury’s loyalists are a little less price sensitive and that Tesco loyalists are driven slightly more by the loyalty card scheme than loyalists for the other three supermarkets.

When the same consumers were asked to identify the retailers that they would most strongly associate with the factors used in the choice-based exercise, a pattern was observed which showed three distinct groups of retailers.

The first group includes Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Co-op which are all very tightly grouped. The factors that bring them together, and with which they are most strongly associated, are high quality produce, a focus on ethical issues and being environmentally concerned.

The second group includes Lidl, Aldi, Netto and Kwik Save, which are all heavily associated with providing value for money. Less tightly connected to this group, but nevertheless considered in the same vein, are Iceland, Spar and Budgens.

The final group is Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s which are strongly associated with having good loyalty card schemes, providing variety and choice along with good product availability.

It is interesting to compare these results with the overall factors that drive supermarket choice. Looking at the top five factors together (value for money, freshness of produce, high quality produce, variety and product availability), not one retailer fulfils all of these needs equally.

To understand what truly drives consumers’ behaviour there is a need to understand each topic in context as well as researching it in isolation. When research focuses on ethics and the environment for example, consumers are more inclined to say these things are important to them and they have an effect on their choices.

However, when presented with a full range of factors such as price and quality, the whole basis on which consumers respond to these issues and their relative importance can change dramatically.

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