As the first-of-its-kind market study to explore which retailers are earning high marks with food shoppers and how their overall performance and penetration stack up, Winsight Grocery Business enlisted consumer research firm BrandSpark International to conduct the Most Trusted U.S. Food Retailers benchmark study, which captured the opinions of nearly 2,500 grocery shoppers in September 2017. Aside from Walmart and Kroger, 30 other grocery banners claimed a spot on America’s Most Trusted Food Retailers’ leaderboard.
In Walmart and Kroger They Trust
While Walmart is generally panned in the majority of national grocery surveys for its big-box sameness, lackluster fresh departments and subpar service, the Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer’s status as the most trusted grocery retailer is among the study’s most noteworthy findings. A full 20%, or one in five shoppers, visit Walmart for their groceries and, accordingly, consider it to be their most trusted retailer versus any other store. While its top standing vividly underscores its pervasive presence stemming from its 5,352 locations—which includes 3,538 supercenters, 412 conventional discount stores, 701 Neighborhood Markets, 48 small-formats and 653 Sam’s Clubs—Walmart’s executive team has wisely abandoned resting on its captive market penetration to power it into the next age.
Meanwhile, The Kroger Co.’s family of 2,800 stores, which operate under a variety of local banners in 35 states and the District of Columbia, paced as the most trusted runner-up, winning trust among 13% of grocery shoppers. While Kroger has seen its stock plunge more than 37% this year, the world’s third-largest retailer continues to hold sway with American shoppers. To stoke the fires with new-age kindling, the Cincinnati-based company is mounting an aggressive campaign to catapult itself into the future of grocery by embarking on a strategic reset. Kroger recently revealed its new Restock effort aimed at “redefining the grocery experience” with heavy capital investments—$9 billion over the next three years—coupled with cost savings in opportune business segments.
Other banners factoring strong on the Most Trusted U.S. Food Retailers’ leaderboard by region include Aldi and Publix Super Markets, which surpassed the 5% benchmark, followed next by Trader Joe’s and Safeway, which each earned a 4% most trusted grade, and Target and ShopRite, which scored a 3% nod among U.S. food shoppers.
Walmart Devours Pie in Past 6 Months
When asked which grocery store they’ve shopped most often in the past six months, Walmart has the dominant lead among nearly 60% of survey respondents. In other words, almost six in 10 American shoppers visited Walmart for groceries in the past six months, while one in four shoppers’ food dollars were spent in the discount grocery leader Aldi (26%), followed next by Kroger and Target, which tied at 23%. Other top retailers breaking the 10% or better benchmark of food stores most frequently visited in the past six months: Aldi’s sister specialty grocer, Trader Joe’s (13%), Publix (12%), Safeway (11%), and Albertsons (10%).
H-E-B, Kroger, Publix, Wegmans Breed True Believers
Consistent with their companies’ renowned reputations for top-notch service and on-point merchandising, shoppers who visited H-E-B, Kroger, Publix and Wegmans in the past six months consider these four retailers to be the most trusted among 32 of their peers, with scores at or above 45%. While the number of shoppers visiting these four retailers’ stores varies greatly, the aforementioned banners are likely to be visited most frequently—and named as the most trusted—for complete grocery shopping trips by their shoppers.
Also not surprising is H-E-B’s standing as the most trusted grocery retailer among loyalists, nearly 60% of which indicate their affinity for the San Antonio-based retailer. Further, 2% of American household shoppers name H-E-B as their primary store for groceries, but 57% of H-E-B shoppers name the banner as their most trusted, earning more citations than any other retailer receives from its core shoppers.
Hy-Vee, Stop & Shop, Safeway, Giant Eagle, Food Lion, WinCo and Price Chopper factor as the next tier of top-performing food retailers earning high grades for trust for scores between 43% and 35%. Walmart, Meijer, Trader Joe’s and Kroger’s Harris Teeter division also deliver trusted experience scores ranging from 34% to 32%.
Stop & Shop, ShopRite, Safeway Emerge as One-Stop Leaders
H-E-B, Stop & Shop, Kroger, Walmart, ShopRite and Safeway—each earning grades between 54% and 40%—have succeeded at being “one-stop shops” among consumers who are most likely to call one their primary store. Other top food retailers who are viewed favorably for their one-stop-shop attributes include Publix and Food Lion (39%), and Hy-Vee and Giant Eagle (35%). Also excelling at value and selection to fulfill the needs of most shopping trips are Price Chopper and WinCo (34%), and Ralph’s and Meijer (31%). A large portion of these stores’ shoppers give them the majority of their grocery spend.
Retailers rated between 30% and 16% have a larger proportion of shoppers who do more of their shopping elsewhere, but come to them for occasional purchases, driven by price, selection or convenience. And those with scores 15% and lower serve as supplementary destinations for most of their shoppers, picking up specialty occasions and generating incremental occasions due to convenience.
Shopper Habits are Hard to Break
While price is the top driver of retailer selection and Walmart is a low-price leader, another intriguing finding revealed in the Most Trusted U.S. Food Retailers survey finds 19% of shoppers saying they would still shop there even if prices were the same elsewhere. Further, if prices were the same everywhere, Walmart (19%), Kroger (11%), Publix (7%) and Aldi (6%) might expect to hold on to most of their primary shoppers, although there is little doubt that any of the above would take that chance.
Not surprisingly, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s jumps up the ledger of options if shoppers could remove the primary barrier of price. Amazon’s recently minted ownership of Whole Foods and its companion move to lower prices at Whole Foods is likely to attract a new segment of shoppers who prioritize fresh foods and trust retailers that offer superior overall value, with price being a foremost consideration in the equation.
In a Perfect Price World, Publix Is Top Pick
If prices were not a factor, recent shoppers of Publix (59%), H-E-B (58%), Hy-Vee (52%) and Wegmans (51%) would most readily choose those stores as their top food retailer. The quad of aforementioned retailers rate strongly among shoppers who are already not choosing the lowest price retailer locally and who are most likely to stick with them in the hypothetical situation that prices were uniform at all retailers across the board.
Also viewed as the most preferred food store among shoppers who said they would shop there if prices were equivalent include Kroger (48%), Whole Foods Market (45%), Giant Eagle (41%) and Meijer (40%).
Go-to Grocers: Walmart, Kroger, Aldi, Publix
Commanding a 28% rating among shoppers asked to rank their primary store they shopped most often in the past six months, Walmart is in the lead more than two times over runner-up Kroger, which was chosen among 12% as their primary go-to grocery store. Aldi (8%) and Publix (5%) were also cited as most-often-shopped food store in the past six months, while Safeway (4%), Stop & Shop (3%) and ShopRite (3%) are also considered most often to be the food store of choice among survey panelists.