The 2014 Harris Poll EquiTrend (EQ) study, which measures brand equity for more than 1,500 brands across 170 categories, finds traditional grocery store brands rank highest overall in three of the four regions surveyed. The EQ index examines three key factors of brand equity: familiarity, quality and purchase consideration.
This is the first time in the study's 26-year history that Americans were surveyed about grocery retailers on a regional level using the four census regions: West, Midwest, Northeast and South. A mix of grocery retailer formats was included in the study, including traditional grocery stores (e.g. Kroger, Giant), mass retailers with grocery sections (e.g. Walmart, Target), discount grocery stores (e.g. Aldi, Food 4 Less) and club stores with grocery sections (e.g. Sam's Club, Costco), as well as the specialty grocers Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Markets. The study awards Brand of the Year status to regionally focused, traditional grocery store brands in the Midwest, Northeast and South regions.
"These stores put an emphasis on building a relationship with the customer, and it's paid off with positive brand equity " Michael Treboni, executive vice president of retail professional services at Nielsen, said in a press release.
In America's heartland, consumers named Hy-Vee as the Midwest Grocery Store Brand of the Year. While not among the most familiar brands for the region, consumers who are familiar with the brand give strong marks for quality and purchase consideration.
"Hy-Vee has strong purchase consideration scores and very 'connected consumers,' meaning they have strong feelings for the brand and believe it's a good fit for them," Treboni said.
Also ranking above the Midwest Region Grocery Store category average were Meijer, Giant Eagle, Kroger, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, Walmart (Groceries) and Jewel & Jewel-Osco.
In the Northeast, Wegmans is Brand of the Year in the Grocery Store category. With about 80 stores, most located in New York and Pennsylvania, Wegmans has a smaller footprint than many competitors in the region.
"However, Wegmans' exceptional quality and purchase consideration ratings make them look like a regional David among national-brand Goliaths," Treboni said.
Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market, ShopRite, Hannaford Bros., BJ's Wholesale Club (Groceries), Stop & Shop, Costco (Groceries), Price Chopper and Giant Food Stores also rank above the Northeast Region Grocery Store category average.
Stretching from Texas to Florida and up the east coast to Maryland, the South region is a sprawling patchwork of grocery retailers, and Publix is its Grocery Store Brand of the Year for 2014.
Primarily located in Florida and Georgia, Publix earns the top ranking with strong purchase consideration ratings and quality marks.
"Publix has a high level of brand advocacy, which means their consumer fan base is telling others how good they feel the brand is. That's brand strength," Treboni said.
Also ranking above the South Region Grocery Store category average are Walmart (Groceries), H-E-B, Trader Joe's, Harris Teeter, Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Sam's Club (Groceries) and Target (Groceries).
Costco is the Brand of the Year among West Region Grocery Stores, with the highest brand equity ranking of any brand in any region.
"While Costco is an international retailer, it has its roots in the West and that strong presence resonates in their brand equity scores," Treboni said in the press release. "Costco has a large proportion of consumers who are 'extremely familiar' with the brand in the West which, along with notable quality and consideration, drives the top score."
Other brands to rank above the category average in the West Region include Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market, Safeway and Stater Bros. Markets.
When looking across the four regions, it is worth noting that both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Markets are the only national brands to rank above the category average in all four regions, with consistently strong quality and purchase consideration scores. This echoes findings from the 2012 Nielsen Store Choice Drivers study, which focused on identifying store characteristics that help build equity with shoppers. The 2014 version of Store Choice Drivers will be released in the fall with a link to key EquiTrend metrics.