The news is good for producers of fresh food: A survey of over 1,000 Americans by OpinionWay for Bizerba/Invatron published in December 2016 found that nearly half of respondents (48 percent) consume more fresh products (including fruit, vegetables, meats, and cheeses) than they did three years ago, while 41 percent say their consumption of fresh products has remained stable.
The reasons are simple enough: Respondents felt fresh products offered higher quality, had better flavor, and created less waste. Overall, the survey found that the choice of fresh products was driven by the turn toward a healthier diet and lifestyle.
However, while strong majorities reported they believed fresh products were more flavorful (75 percent), healthier (74 percent), better quality (74 percent), and contained more healthy ingredients (74 percent), only 38 percent of people aged 50 and older preferred fresh foods, compared with 58 percent of people aged 35 and younger.
“Promoting longevity related to fresh foods is certainly a factor that can improve the numbers,” says Robert Weisz, vice president retail, Bizerba North America.
The increase in fresh product consumption over the past three years was higher (53 percent) in the highest income group ($75,000 per year or more), compared with the lowest income group ($50,000 per year and less), which saw slightly below half (45 percent) of respondents prioritize fresh food.
The principal barrier to buying fresh products was price: Of the 11 percent eating less fresh food than before, 26 percent say they’re worse off financially, while 24 percent feel that fresh products have become more expensive.
“With regards to the low-income group, it is difficult to get them onto more fresh foods as they typically cost quite a bit more than ‘processed’ types,” Weisz says. “Retailers should consider one or two loss-leaders per fresh area to pull in this group so they can experience the difference, and most likely lead to increased purchases.”
Interestingly, traditional supermarkets came out as the retail winner in the survey, with 63 percent of respondents saying they preferred to shop there instead of at natural/organic grocery stores (14 percent), wholesale clubs (9 percent), or discount stores (8 percent).
“It’s vital for retailers to spend time understanding their own shoppers and what they want in terms of fresh offerings,” explains Weisz. “Every retailer has a position in the market that is slanted either towards higher quality and service, or to the opposite, lower prices. Depending on where the retailer sits on that spectrum will determine what they will need to focus on. If it’s price, then optimizing their inventory efficiency and supply chain can yield price drops without margin impact—otherwise it will be the retailer’s margin that will suffer. The same scenario is true with labor costs. If quality is the driver, then the supply chain should be reviewed in terms of local sourcing whenever possible to help capitalize on fresher, higher quality, seasonal products. This allows the retailer to obtain a qualitative input to various forecasts used for replenishment.”
The survey reports the three key purchase triggers for most fresh products are appearance (above all), quality, and price. The sole exception is cheese, for which price is the deciding factor.
“We feel that the assortment and pricing, along with messaging, will attract more customers to fresh,” Weisz says. “Many operators do not put enough emphasis on educating the consumer on fresh, and the message gets lost in all the buy-one-get-one-free marketing. The retailer needs to highlight their key qualities: If they are supplied by local farms, retailers should highlight and promote these sourcing methods, for example. Alternatively, they can also put the emphasis on health benefits, in-store subject matter experts [nutritionists, meat experts, and produce specialists], and of course, differentiation in the marketplace.”