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Grocery consumer behavior trends: data shows brand loyalty for holiday main courses

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As consumers’ thoughts turn steadily toward the upcoming holiday season, brands and grocers are working to understand how they will be gathering and shopping differently during this critical period this year. Last year, retailers and CPG companies found that customer behavior was still largely dictated by health concerns and restrictions driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in 2022, consumer behavior will be shaped more by concerns about the rising inflation and supply chain shortages that have surfaced in the pandemic’s aftermath. These changing attitudes and behaviors are creating opportunities for brands to drive awareness and impact purchasing.

In 84.51°’s recent anonymized study of 400 consumers who shopped at one of Kroger’s 25+ banner stores, we uncovered insights into holiday shopper behavior to help brands understand what shoppers will be planning and prioritizing this season — whether they’re shopping online or visiting brick-and-mortar stores. While the pandemic and its aftereffects have driven many shifts in consumer behavior trends, some traditional consumer habits look to be holding strong this holiday season. This year, shoppers plan to make some changes in their holiday purchasing habits while also looking to protect their favorite traditions from price hikes and supply shortages.

As people return to pre-COVID events and activities, many will also go back to making more shopping trips to physical stores. But they won’t be ditching the digital shopping habits they’ve picked up over the last two years. Instead, they’ll be taking a hybrid approach to shopping that combines online and in-store purchasing. That’s why it’s so important for brands and retailers to meaningfully engage customers across every touchpoint on the path to purchase.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average American spends a little less than $1,000 during the winter shopping season. Research from the NRF also found that more than 60% of consumers started shopping for the winter holidays by early November in 2021 — up from 59% the year before. This year, that consumer spending is expected to start even earlier than that, as shoppers try to search for discounts and spread out their spending over time in an effort to manage inflation.

Also, this year more customers are back in the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, after hitting a high of more than 14% in April of 2020, the unemployment rate dropped to below 4% in August. While shoppers are concerned about rising grocery prices, an increased sense of job security may make many of them more receptive to promotions and discount strategies than they have been since the pandemic started.

From personalized campaigns to strong in-store and online marketing strategies, brands and retailers should be developing a strong omnichannel strategy that addresses these shifting trends while delivering meaningful experiences for both Digital Dabblers and Digital Champs as they head into the holidays.

Over the last two years, rising prices and supply chain shortages have prompted many consumers to purchase lower-priced alternatives to their usual brands. Whether those product substitutions have been made for savings or due to product availability, the result is the same: they’ve made these shoppers more comfortable with putting a variety of unfamiliar items in their carts.

But despite this general decline in brand loyalty, shoppers say they are still particular about the brands they purchase for the centerpiece of their holiday meals — the main course. While they might be willing to make trade-offs on other parts of the table, our research found that 30% of consumers must select a certain brand of turkey, 26% of consumers must select a certain brand of stuffing, 24% of consumers must select a certain brand of ham.

With experts estimating roughly 45 million turkeys and 25 million pounds of ham are consumed each Thanksgiving alone, that’s a weighty opportunity for brands to reach customers shopping for these holiday staples. In fact, our holiday shopper study found that when shopping for holiday items this year, 84% of consumers surveyed plan to purchase main courses.

It’s important to note that even though digitally engaged shoppers are more comfortable purchasing their main dish online, most customers still prefer to go in-store to select it themselves. During the 2021 holidays, while all Digital Champs households purchased something online within total store, 71% purchased turkey online. And only 18% of Digital Dabblers households purchased this centerpiece item online.

The holidays are fueled by nostalgia and heritage, and when shoppers sense those factors may be in danger, they take action. To leverage loyalty, brands can drive brand affinity for holiday main course products by offering early or “stock-up” deals for shoppers afraid their favorite items might run out.

With nearly 60% of the consumers surveyed in our holiday insights study saying stocking up on items is part of how their grocery shopping behavior has changed, brands that develop new opportunities for shoppers to make these early purchases can create a better shopping experience that delivers peace of mind during an uncertain time. By incorporating these new behaviors into their strategies, brands can drive awareness and impact purchasing, all while better serving shoppers’ needs.

With 76% of shoppers planning to head to the store to purchase their main courses, brands can leverage these items to drive in-store basket-building. Focus efforts around in-store displays located near those entrée items, and consider creating bundle offers for a certain dollar amount off their total basket when they pick up their entrée along with other selected items.

As the lingering effects of the pandemic give way to the pressures of inflation, consumers will be behaving and shopping differently this holiday season. This shift presents unique opportunities for every CPG brand to engage consumers and build loyalty by helping cost-conscious shoppers stretch their holiday budgets further. Customer insights provide valuable information about what your customers are looking for and how to meet them when and where they want to shop.

A strong omnichannel marketing strategy is a necessity to reach today’s hybrid shoppers. Even if shoppers are heading to physical stores to purchase certain items, that does not mean they’re not influenced by a digital path to purchase. From recipe inspiration on social media channels to in-store displays that build additional value around centerpiece items, brands’ holiday plans should include a variety of touchpoints to reach their target audience and better serve their needs.

This holiday season will be yet another unusual one for shoppers and brands alike. The rising cost of food is changing some — but not all — of the ways shoppers plan to purchase their holiday staples this year. To better understand how to respond to these consumer holiday shopping shifts, unwrap our new white paper, Holidays 2022: 8 key shopper insights and how brands can respond to win the in-store and digital shelf this season.

Download the white paper

If you’d like to learn more about consumer trends in grocery shopping behavior and how to leverage them, here are some additional pieces that might interest you:

Winsight Grocery Business: Holidays 2022: Larger gatherings and more premium buying, 84.51° data reveals: New research from 84.51° data reveals consumers are looking forward to bringing back some of the traditions that put the "happy" in the holidays.

Kroger’s 84.51° tells a tale of two shoppers: On this podcast episode, Barbara Connors, 84.51° vice president, Commercial Insights, shares insights about the rise of the hybrid shopper and how brands can understand their different behaviors to best engage with them.

Building digital baskets one non-perishable item at a time: As more customers adopt ecommerce, certain categories are more appealing to shoppers using the digital cart for the first time. Find out which items are ruling the online realm.

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