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Food trips to nontraditional stores — mass, dollar, drug — on rise

NEW YORK — A recent consumer survey released by AlixPartners found that a little more than half of all consumers (51%) identify a traditional grocery retailer as their point of destination when making a grocery trip. Such mass merchants as Walmart are capturing 30% of those trips, and the continued emphasis on fresh in the drug channel has drawn 5% of those trips into the mainstream pharmacy.

Dollar stores, another channel that has in the past few years made a significant push into food items, also draws 5% of all grocery trips.

According to the survey, the lowest-income shoppers are purchasing only 45% of their groceries at grocery stores, with mass merchandisers capturing a significant 38% of total spending from these consumers. The highest-income shoppers (those with incomes of $100,000 and above) purchase most (56%) of their groceries at grocery stores, but club stores have become extremely popular, capturing 17% of this group’s traditionally larger grocery spending.

Those grocery trips are coveted shopping occasions, and for good reason. The average shopper makes 1.8 trips per week specifically to pick up groceries. As many as 70% of consumers are making trips to the grocery store at least once per week, and 50% plan to spend more on groceries in the coming year, with 39% expecting to spend the same amount citing concerns over the eocnomy.

While competition between traditional and nontraditional grocery retailers is nothing new, nontraditional players appear to be growing market share at a stronger-than-expected clip. A relatively new competitor — Internet retailers — are capturing 2% of shoppers’ grocery dollars.

“The battle with mass merchandisers, club stores and dollar stores has been dragging on for years, but it’s heating up and traditional grocery retailers are losing ground,” stated Russ Jones, director in AlixPartners’ Global Retail Practice. “Shoppers are more willing than ever to try new venues — and, unfortunately for traditional grocery stores, many shoppers are finding a better fit elsewhere.”

What holds true for shoppers in search of where to make their weekly food purchases, also holds true for shoppers in search of where to pick up their prescriptions. “Most grocers have loyalty programs now, and we’ve seen a lot of new ones lately, but very few grocers have unlocked the power of these programs,” suggested Keith Jelinek, also a director in the Global Retail Practice at AlixPartners. “Grocers who leverage existing loyalty programs to identify and understand their customers, and then use that information to develop customer segmentation strategies, will come out on top.”

A fully developed loyalty program can inform growth into such services as in-store pharmacies. The AlixPartners survey showed that only 18% of consumers currently fill their prescriptions at grocery stores. Another factor to entice better mining of loyalty program data: loyal customers purchase 20 to 30 times the amount as compared with the occasional or new shopper, and can be a major source of revenue growth, according to the firm’s research.

“With consumers looking to maximize efficiency and minimize shopping trips, this is a big opportunity for grocery stores,” Jones said. “Well-planned in-store pharmacies can lead to a significant margin boost, and mining the data from loyalty programs can be the key differentiator.”

The AlixPartners Grocery Shopper Preferences Survey was conducted April 11 to 12 among 1,000 U.S. adults. U.S. shoppers were asked to provide feedback on their grocery shopping strategies, expected grocery spending, preferred channels and retailers for grocery purchase, as well as the impact of in-store and other services.

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