Changing shopping habits challenge traditional grocers

(Minneapolis) Star TribuneApril 10, 2013 

How do you shop for groceries? Take our survey at the bottom of the story.

Like increasing numbers of grocery shoppers, Ty Rushmeyer doesn’t have a regular store.

The 28-year-old and his wife shop at Rainbow once a week, but they also stock up their pantry at Target. Then there are “fun runs” for unique products at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, an Asian market, a local co-op and, in season, the farmers market.

“We’re looking for healthier options,” Rushmeyer said. “But we’re also deal-seekers. We know which store has the best price for each item.”

Welcome to the new grocery landscape, in which traditional grocers are less able to count on loyal customers who buy everything they need in one visit. Instead, shoppers are spreading their money around and constantly looking for deals. Traditional grocers are getting squeezed, not only by Target and Wal-Mart, but also by co-ops, farmers markets, specialty gourmet stores, budget grocer Aldi, dollar stores and drugstores.

“Consumers are constantly comparing from retailer to retailer,” said John Rand, a supermarket analyst for Kantar Retail in Cambridge, Mass. “If a store starts to slip because its prices are out of line or quality is suffering, people will quickly move on.”

In Columbia, shoppers have more options than ever:

•  Whole Foods opened its first Midlands store on Fort Jackson Boulevard last fall.

•  Trader Joe’s entered the market on Forest Drive last month.

•  Target on Garners Ferry Road recently expanded its food selections to add items such as fresh produce.

•  And a variety of small farmers markets – including one on Main Street – have popped up in recent months.

Traditional grocery stores nationwide have lost 15 percent of their market share in the past 10 years, said Phil Lempert, a food industry consultant at SupermarketGuru.com.

Although shopping habits have been shifting for a decade, the recession accelerated the change. Everyone is a value customer now, analysts say, and traditional grocery stores are finding it difficult to compete on price.

One way to compete is a bigger assortment of products. Target and Wal-Mart stores typically stock far fewer items than does a traditional grocery store, and Rand said discounters are more likely to run out of a particular item.

Still, low prices are no guarantee of attracting harried shoppers. “Consumers are looking not only at their wallet, but also the clock and the gas gauge,” said consumer behavior analyst Paco Underhill. “They don’t always need to choose from 15 types of pasta in a supermarket. Three is enough when you’re time-crunched.”

How do you shop for groceries?

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