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Brick-and-Mortar Success Hinges on Fresh

Nielsen finds the perimeter lures shoppers to spend in-store
Photograph: Shutterstock

While online shopping in the U.S. is winning the battle for nonperishable market share, physical stores are winning the war on fresh, a Nielsen report found.

“Consider that in-store U.S. dollar-sales growth for seafood, deli and bakery is 5%, 4.9% and 4.2%, respectively; meanwhile, in-store U.S. dollar-sales growth for frozen and health and beauty care is at 1.7% and 1.5%, respectively,” said Greg Doonan, communications manager for New York-based Nielsen, citing data for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 24.

While online sales continue to comprise a relatively small percentage of the overall grocery landscape, e-commerce is poised to ride the growth trajectory into the next decade and beyond, according to the report.

“Although e-commerce represents just 4% of grocery sales today, it accounts for nearly one-third of total growth,” noted Nielsen. “And Americans are increasingly heading online to shop for nonperishables, household items and pet products, making the concept of stock-up grocery trips a thing of the past for many shoppers.” 

It’s the fresh perimeter—bakery, deli, meat, produce and seafood—that is driving shoppers into brick-and-mortar stores, Nielsen noted. Its analysts find that online grocery shoppers spend 1.5% more in-store on fresh food than the average consumer.

“As more category sales continue to shift online, retailers need a way to differentiate themselves in stores, and fresh is the perfect place to do it,” the Nielsen report said. “Fresh is the growth engine of the store, as gains in these perimeter departments translate to total store success.”

When Nielsen segmented stores based on the percentage of overall store sales from fresh food departments, it found that top performers generate 43% of overall sales from perishable foods, compared to an average of 32% for the same measurement across all retailers.

“For the most successful retailers, deli and produce departments provide the greatest contribution to total perishable sales,” said Nielsen. “This debunks the long-standing belief that the meat department contributes the highest impact to the success of the perimeter of the store. And it likely reflects consumers’ changing wellness needs, as well as their growing demands for convenience.”

Overall, fresh seafood and deli sales continue to rise in-store, while the health and beauty care department is seeing its fortunes shift online, Nielsen reported.

When it comes to the most successful retailers in fresh, the data suggests it’s not about the quantity but rather the coveted items a grocer carries. For example, Nielsen found that top-performing fresh retailers offer nearly three times as many different plant-based meat alternative offerings as lesser performers.

And experience is everything. Today’s consumer wants a destination shopping experience elevated by additional assets, such as personalization and convenience.

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