Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Find Me a Store

Grocery stores have long been referred to in the possessive. Because they are neighborhood institutions and are the site of frequent visits, shoppers often talk about their preferred food retail outlet in the familiar sense of "my grocery store." While the number of food shopping venues patronized by shoppers has become more fragmented and specialized, customers are still prone to single out one as "my store." However, the meaning behind the possessive "my" has deepened.

Fifty years ago, if you asked consumers what they were looking for in a grocery store, you could pretty well predict the answers would be variations on the three-note theme of good prices, convenience, and tasty, quality products. Today, the list of attributes consumers are looking for in their food retail venue is much longer and infinitely more complex, reflecting the growing shopper sentiment of seeking out retail outlets supporting values that the shopper holds dear.

FMI's 2015 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report–completed in partnership with The Hartman Group–offers a list of 19 attributes consumers say they are looking for in a grocery store. The traditional answers of good value, convenience, clean store and large selection of products still top the list, but the items in the middle–which include such social concerns as employment practices, animal welfare, local community involvement and fair trade–are growing in intensity.

Once known as single-digit concerns because the percentage of customers listing them was less than 10, but those days are gone. Now, one-quarter of shoppers are curious about a store's labor practices. One-fifth of consumers register some level of concern about animal welfare standards. Seventeen percent are looking for a store involved in fair trade. The five specific attributes customers are looking for that could be grouped within the environmental category have also crossed that double-digit threshold, bearing consumer scores ranging from 12 to 15 percent.

When you consider the diverse range of topics customers are looking for their grocery store to be concerned about and engaged in, it is changing the meaning of "my store." No longer does this mean the store I frequent the most, it has also taken on the nuanced meaning of the store that most reflects my values and concerns–the supermarket that looks (and feels) the most like me.

Given the complexity of attributes being sought and the differing intensity of individual tastes being expressed, I am surprised no one has yet developed an online matchmaking program that hooks consumers up with potential likeminded food retail matches.

David Fikes is vice president for Consumer and Community Affairs at FMI. Reach him at [email protected].