How Food Inflation is Affecting Shopping Habits
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) data for May 2022, prices for food-at-home has jumped about 12% over the past 12 months, the largest 12-month increase in 43 years. As a result of these increases, approximately 95% of US households said they are making changes to purchasing habits (Numerator, 2022) such as shifting where they shop and what they are buying. Retail RDNs can add significant value to their retailer by understanding these key shopping habit changes.
- Driving to the discounters. Rising prices are pushing customers to change where they shop. Discount grocery chains like Aldi, for example, is seeing large spikes in traffic according to company reports. Aldi's highest-growth categories reflect categories with the highest rates of inflation, meaning customers are flocking to the budget store to buy the priciest items. Warehouse stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco are also benefitting from higher prices as consumers are seeking out larger bulk items as a means to reduce costs for products they commonly purchase.
- RDN Implication: To assist with retaining customers, highlight the services you offer to help customers keep themselves and their budgets healthy and well. From meal planning tools to tips for reducing food waste, to budget-friendly recipes. Use your expertise to create videos and social media posts with quick, realistic suggestions to help shoppers get the most nutrition for their money and gear your solutions toward consumer seasonal needs such as back-to-school lunches, quick breakfast recipes and budget-friendly family meals.
- Shrinking their shopping lists. Higher prices are also affecting the size of a household’s shopping list. The Numerator survey showed respondents are purchasing fewer items than they have in the past and 54% said they plan to cut spending, citing non-essential food as one of the top categories they intend to slash. This often means trading down from pricier cuts of meats to less expensive options and buying smaller sized products such as milk. According to a May survey from FMI, 21% of consumers are buying less meat, and 14% are buying less produce.
- RD Implications: Direct shoppers to more cost-effective swaps such as frozen vegetables and canned meat/seafood. Offer a shopping list of pantry staples that can easily be assembled into low-cost meals such as canned beans, pasta, canned tomatoes, oatmeal, and more. Use weekly sale items to help customers create easy family meals and promote these solutions in ad and on-line.
- Picking up more private brands. Many shoppers are opting for the lower costs brands which are often the store’s private brands.
- RD Implications: Emphasize your store’s private brands in all of your educational outreach, meal planning programs and recipes. The presence and availability of private brand products is a great inflation fighter, with benefits even beyond a cheaper total basket at checkout. Highlighting a wide range of own label items encourages a sense of value choices within a retailer’s range and improves a customer’s perception of value for the total store. Where applicable, demonstrate a clear price advantage for purchasing private brands (e.g., 15-20% cheaper) and position products prominently in displays and programming.