While grocery shoppers are less concerned about the pandemic than they were last year, many worry about high prices and out-of-stock items.
In the first of its six-part "2022 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends" series, FMI — The Food Industry Association took a deep dive into current shopper behaviors and feelings toward inflation, out-of-stocks and the pandemic.
In a survey conducted in partnership with The Hartman Group, FMI found that 34% of respondents are concerned with getting ill from other grocery shoppers, which is down significantly from a peak of 59% in April 2020. Some 53% have concerns about rising prices and 45% are concerned about out-of-stocks.
“As of mid-February, shoppers tell us they have the lowest level of concern about COVID-19 since the pandemic began,” said Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-basedFMI. "However, while shoppers' concerns about contracting the virus have subsided compared to a year ago, their expressed anxiety regarding food prices has returned to similar levels witnessed during the summer of 2020. Further exacerbating this stress, Americans' frustration regarding out-of-stocks has not abated."
Indeed, grocery spending has increased along with food prices. Shoppers say their weekly spend has gone up about 4% over last year, and 60% of respondents attribute the increase to rising prices for products including fresh meats, dairy and produce.
Shoppers continue to look for deals to combat the effects of higher prices, with 35% saying they currently rely more heavily on private label products.
Most shoppers, however, have not changed the shopping channels they came to rely on amid the pandemic – especially e-commerce shopping.
“Mass communications can influence how and when inflation is perceived,” the study stated. “Beyond that, though, food retailers and food makers can best meet shopper needs through solutions tailored to their own channel-specific mix of shoppers and category specific mix of food priorities.”
The number of consumers concerned with COVID-19 has declined slightly since October, though that number is significantly lower than it was at this time last year. Younger and older generations continue to report lower levels of concern, while 57% of Millennials remain worried about the pandemic, as do 57% of households with children.
Although COVID-19 concerns persist, FMI found that many shoppers have turned their attention toward higher prices and out-of-stock items. As such, 59% of respondents reported looking for deals, 58% are making substitutions or product changes, 48% have changed where or how they buy groceries and 35% are buying more store brands.
FMI will release further analyses over the next several months, covering topics including shopping trends, hybrid operations, future outlook, back to school and holiday shopping.