ARLINGTON, VA. — U.S. consumers are focusing on price and value at the supermarket, according to the Food Marketing Institute 2009 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends study. When it comes to food purchases, shoppers are economizing.

Three stages of consumer shopping behavior are identified by the research:

  • Stage One — Shoppers save money on eating out by switching from fine dining to fast food. They also seek supermarket meal solutions in place of restaurant fare.
  • Stage Two — Consumers are buying more private-label brands, using coupons, buying basic ingredients and shopping with a plan.
  • Stage Three — Shoppers are switching store formats and are choosing supercenters, warehouse clubs and limited-assortment stores.

Most consumers (69%) claim to be eating out less. Another 50% are eating out at less-expensive places.

Food shoppers are making fewer impulse purchases. Fifty-three percent say they make a shopping list, 40% search newspaper or advertising inserts and 35% said they look for coupons in the mail, newspapers and magazines.

Private-label brand popularity continues growing as 97% of shoppers say they plan to purchase the same amount of private-label brands or more during the next year.

Shoppers are focused on finding the best prices for the food they purchase. Full-service supermarkets were identified by 56% of shoppers as their primary store, down from 60% last year. Customers are loyal to their primary store with only 6% saying they switched stores to save money on groceries. But when it comes to making a secondary trip, 42% of shoppers occasionally shop at other stores, such as supercenters and warehouse stores, to take advantage of specials. Supercenters have 27% of the market share when it comes to grocery shopping and are steadily increasing their share from 22% in 2005.

Consumers spend an average of $98.40 weekly on groceries, up slightly from $97.80 in 2008. However, this increase is offset by the 5.7% food-at-home inflation rate. Fifty-five percent of consumers indicate they are preparing more meals at home than last year.

Consumers seek time-saving, affordable and healthy choices for mealtime. They are most interested in:

  • Easy-to-make recipes (48%)
  • Recipes for cooking a meal for $10 or less (44%)
  • Convenient placement in the store for dinner items such as meat, pasta, sauce, bread and salad (28%)

Most shoppers (83%) say they are either "somewhat" or "very confident" in the safety of food in the supermarket. However, this level of confidence is fragile because 72% say they are only "somewhat" confident. The report also found nearly one-third (31%) of consumers stopped purchasing a food product because of safety concerns. Most shoppers (89%) trust grocery stores to sell safe food, but they hold less trust in the government to make sure the food they purchase is safe.

Consumers are more comfortable with food produced or grown in the U.S. than imported products: 90% of shoppers are either very or somewhat comfortable with U.S. foods compared with only 42% for foreign foods.