Stressed consumers are shifting from the perimeter to center store to find solutions

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/LordHenriVoton
Source: Getty/LordHenriVoton

Related tags stress mood stress management fresh food

Consumers are turning away from fresh as their stress levels rise – preferring the convenience and mood management claims offered more prominently in the center of the store, suggests data from consumer research firm Circana, previously known as IRI.

The drop-off isn’t tremendous yet, but if left unchecked it could have long-term ramifications, especially since the shift is led by millennials who are teaching the next generation how to grocery shop and manage their diets, Jonna Parker, principal II, Fresh Foods at Circana, warned during a webinar this week.

But, she added, there are easy solutions that retailers and brands can enact to bring these shoppers back.

The extent and impact of stress on fresh shoppers

“Stress has emerged as the number one health concern, not just for young people, but frankly, our society,”​ with stress sufferers self-identifying in one in five of the 26 million households that currently buy fresh food, Parker said.

She cautioned, while the fresh department “should be killing it with this group, they’re not finding easy solutions from us, and so they are reducing their trips.”

According to Circana data, the average annual trips stressed Millennials are making to fresh departments fell 1.3% to 113.9 in the 52 weeks ending April 23 compared to the same period last year.

Inflation is helping to keep sales up 4% versus last year, but the impact shows in the increase in basket dollars of fresh compared to other segments. In the 52 weeks ending April 23, basket dollars for fresh grew only 5.3% compared to a 9.6% increase in the center store, she noted.

This decline is happening across fresh with trips per buyer dropping 1.3% in meat, 4.7% in produce and 1.6% in bakery, according to Circana data. Volume is also down across these segments at a rate of 4.3% in meat, 5% in produce and 1.3% in bakery.

The only segment in fresh that is going up, is deli and prepared food, which is enjoying 2.9% more trips per buyer and 0.3% more volume per buyer, Parker noted.

“What is so interesting about stress emerging as a macro trend is other parts of the store are jumping in to really call out the need that food can play when it comes to calming and anti-stress relief. Everything form ice cream to mood boosting water are on shelves today,”​ Parker said.

“So, while these might feel far-fetched, the reality is that a lot of our fresh foods, which we know have natural self-care and stress reducing properties,”​ are not catching the attention of busy consumers, she added. “We really have to focus and not just assume they will find us.”

Solutions for appealing to stressed consumers

She recommends that players in fresh offer solutions for consumers sources of stress, including inflation and time limitations.

For the first, she recommends educating consumers about how they can use fresh foods before they go bad, incorporate leftovers into new meals, stretch meat-based recipes with more vegetables, pasta and beans and use more simple ingredients rather than more expensive processed foods or prepared meals.

For the second, she recommends offering time-saving shortcuts, such as pre-cut fruit, sales of which went up 35.7% in the 52 weeks ending April 23 compared to whole fresh melons, which saw sales drop 12.8% in the same time period. Likewise, sales of deli sandwiches increased 8.1% while deli service lunch meat fell 12.1% in the same period.

She also recommends playing with “stress-reducing ingredients in flavors and ingredients,” and communicating “calming properties,” including easier prep and permissible indulgence on packaging to appeal to burnt-out and time crunched consumers.

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