Survey: Food shoppers look for value amid rising prices, shrinking package sizes

NEW YORK — Rising food prices and shrinking package sizes is a top concern for consumers, according to Deloitte's "2011 Consumer Food and Product Insight Survey."

Nearly nine in 10 survey respondents (87.7%) believe prices in food stores are escalating and almost three-quarters (74%) say the size of some packaged goods is smaller. Consequently, savvy consumers are purchasing more private-label and store brand products, the survey found. More than three-quarters of respondents (75.3%) purchased lower-priced products and nearly two in five respondents (39.6%) added more private label products to their grocery bags.

Gas prices continue to take their toll on consumer behavior, as nearly three in four respondents (72.7%) are making fewer trips to the grocery store to save money and more than two-fifths (40.8%) are purchasing fewer items overall.

"Higher prices, smaller package sizes and pain at the pump are driving consumers to buy lower-priced grocery items," said Pat Conroy, vice-chairman, Deloitte LLP and the U.S. consumer products practice leader. "That's why now more than ever it is important for consumer products companies to strengthen their customer relationships and distinguish value ahead of the competition."

Though consumers may be looking for the lowest priced items when they shop for food, nutrition still matters. According to the Deloitte survey, more than three in four respondents (76.2%) say they more often want healthier food options when they shop and nearly two-thirds (64.8%) agree or somewhat agree that food retailers are starting to sell more locally produced fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, nearly one-half of respondents (49.3%) agree that packaging that displays a row of standardized icons called "nutrition keys" on the front of the package with standard ingredients listed on the back would be very helpful for purchasing decisions.  The survey also found that more than half (51.1%) of food shoppers read the ingredients on unfamiliar food items.

When it comes to researching product information, shoppers are relying more on mobile devices, the survey found More than one-third (34%) of smartphone users research food prices or product information while in a store. More than two-fifths (43%) of smartphone users have managed a food shopping list on their device while not in a store.

Overall, more than one-half (53%) of shoppers surveyed are increasingly using technology to obtain information about food products and more than one-quarter (28%) of respondents interacted with a food retailer via their mobile application or website. Furthermore, more than one-fifth (23.5%) of survey respondents expect their smartphone-related grocery shopping activity to increase next year.

Traditional supermarkets remain the top choice for food shoppers, with 79.7% of those surveyed chosing to shop there. Large supercenters came in second, with 61% of respondents saying they shop there for food.

Outside of shopping at supermarkets and one-stop shop supercenters, nearly one-third of consumers (32.6%) met their grocery needs by visiting a dollar store over the past year. The survey also found that more than 2 in 5 respondents (22%) bought food at a drug store and slightly less than 1 in 20 shoppers (4.9%) visited an online retailer or food manufacturer to purchase food.