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Industry Viewpoint: Produce provides value to indy grocers

Keeping up with the pace of change in the retail industry can be a daunting task, but independent grocers have faced shifts in the marketplace for decades. While we are in a period of significant disruption, there are a number of areas where independents can differentiate themselves with great success.Nielsen-ECommerce

Findings from the third annual, National Grocery Shoppers Survey, which was presented at this year’s show, identified new winning strategies for independents, based on in-depth consumer research. The research, conducted by Nielsen on behalf of NGA, includes results from both The Harris Poll consumer panel from more than 3,000 self-identified shoppers who spend more than 50 percent of their grocery dollars at independent grocers and Nielsen’s panel-based Independent Grocer Shopping database, a new subset of the Nielsen Homescan panel. This combined dataset represents the largest and most developed view into today’s independent grocery shopper.

According to the latest survey, two-thirds (64 percent) of independent shoppers are very/extremely satisfied with their local supermarket. Additionally, independent grocers are strongly associated with friendly employees, quality meats and produce, and easy-to-navigate layout.

That’s good news for our sector, and because independent grocers are nimble enough to respond quickly to what customers need and want, in addition to providing great service and their strong communities ties, the independent supermarket industry has the advantage to stay ahead of the consumer trend curve.

Key findings of this year’s research include:

E-commerce insights
More than 80 percent of shoppers prefer their local store to an online alternative, and for those who do grocery shop online, do it in addition to shopping in store (68 percent), with the majority of their purchases (75 percent) done at the store. Convenience is the main reason for shopping online for groceries, while the need to see items and concerns about freshness are the biggest barriers to online shopping.

While a small group of shoppers (11 percent) shop online, food delivery is the preferred method of shopping. More than three quarters (76 percent) of shoppers who have purchased groceries online have used food delivery compared to 39 percent who have used the click-and-collect method. Nearly three in 10 (27 percent) shoppers indicated that they anticipate an uptick in their online grocery shopping over the next five years.

Driving Health and Wellness
The majority of independent shoppers (63 percent) expect their grocery stores to support them with a healthier lifestyle. The top recommendations included: Instructions on how to cook with certain foods (28 percent); help with label reading including ingredients (25 percent); and general guidance on food that gives good nutritional value for the dollar (23 percent). Shoppers were almost split on where healthy foods should be displayed, with 58 percent saying that healthy food alternatives should be shelved alongside other food items, compared to 42 percent who think healthy food should be in its own section, separate from main aisles.

Key areas that are valued most
When considering where to shop for groceries independents shoppers value low prices, quality meats and produce, friendly staff, cleanliness, and offering locally grown produce and other packaged goods. Almost seven in 10 shoppers (67 percent) have no plans to switch from their independent store.

Areas of needed improvement
Independent supermarket operators need to improve their website usability, with consistent pricing online and offline, the same products online and in-store, and an easy-to-use smartphone app.

The research offers an interesting glimpse into the attitudes and behaviors of shoppers, but it also provides a larger picture of the power of independent grocers, who I believe have much to build on for the future.

(Peter Larkin is the president and chief executive officer of National Grocers Association)