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Fresh Food Is Hotter Than Ever, Finds New Report From Deloitte

Buying pattern disruption creates new opportunities for growth
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A new study from Deloitte reveals how the pandemic is driving growth in fresh food. “Fresh food is more valued than ever—nine in 10 respondents say it literally makes them happy,” reports the audit, consulting, tax and advisory services company, regarding the results of its latest survey of 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 to 70.

But while the desire and demand for fresh food is at a record high, so too is consumer stress from shopping in-store during a pandemic. Deloitte found that more than half of consumers (54%) feel stressfrom shopping in-stores, resulting in less frequent visits.

Other key findings of the study include the emergence of safety as a prominent factor when shopping a store, though price continues to be a primary driver of fresh food purchase decisions.

Nearly 90% of survey respondents said both safety and price were purchase drivers. And while “a majority of consumers (70%)still value drivers like sustainability and locally sourced foods, they are now less urgent than they were last year,” says Deloitte.

According to Deloitte’s new report, The Future of Fresh: Patterns from the Pandemic, the anxiety of shopping in-store, combined with ongoing health and financial concerns, has disrupted consumer buying patterns and created new opportunities for businesses.

Consumers are shopping less frequently, says Deloitte, which found the numbers of respondents who shopped for fresh food multiple times a week dropped by half this year (30% in 2019 vs. 15% in 2020). “In fact, based on credit card analysis, grocery stores are seeing less of some of their best fresh-purchasing customers as consumers who shop at least once a week comprise 80% of fresh food sales,” the company reports.

“Shifting consumer priorities and new habits brought on by COVID-19 continue to impact the fresh food category,” said Barb Renner, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and U.S. consumer products leader, in a statement. “With consumers spending less time commuting, they have more time to prepare fresh meals. However, they are conflicted and want to avoid the anxiety of shopping at multiple stores to purchase the fresh items they want.

“As consumers reduce the frequency of their fresh food purchases, there is a clear need for retailers to better understand and engage these emerging consumer personas to drive omni-channel growth,” she continued.

Through its survey analysis of American shoppers, Deloitte further identified two different consumer profiles: conventional, which it defines as the 60% of consumers who have a traditional approach to their fresh shopping at the grocery store, and contemporary consumers (40% of those surveyed) who are driving innovation in the fresh food category in a variety of ways. Cultivating the contemporary consumer may be a key factor in continued fresh category growth.

Getting to Know the Contemporary Consumer

“Contemporary consumers value a new kind of convenience that now includes availability,” says Deloitte. Since the pandemic, that availability has moved increasingly online. Whereas 68% of contemporary consumers have bought at least some fresh food online, only 9% of conventional consumers have done so, finds Deloitte.

And while many shoppers pre-pandemic were reticent to make fresh purchases online, Deloitte finds that more than two-thirds (68%) of contemporary consumers now trust their assigned in-store shoppers to select the best quality fresh food items available. Contemporary consumers are also more willing to pay a premium for fresh food, and they’re buying almost twice as much of it as their conventional counterparts (50% versus 27%, respectively).

“Despite the ongoing challenges fresh food retailers face, new consumer buying patterns are driving innovation and new opportunities. For grocery retailers, predicting what consumers are likely to purchase is essential to keeping core items in stock,” said Brian Baker, managing director of retail and consumer goods for Deloitte Consulting LLP, in a release. “Meeting consumer demand for healthy, sustainable and safe fresh food items, as well as providing new alternatives, will keep consumers returning across channels.”

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