Consumers eye a lot on first-time food purchases

February 17, 2012

Price, ingredients and brand name top the list of product traits people weigh before buying a new food item for the first time.

What do consumers look for when they buy a new food product for the first time?

Price, mostly. Not too surprising in today’s economy, price is the answer for more than three-quarters of consumers (75.8%) who do it “almost always.”  That’s up from 72.0% before the recession.

Add in the 21.5% who “sometimes” look at price, and that’s 97.3% of consumers who consider the cost of a new food item before making the purchase, reports the 2012 National Grocers Association-SupermarketGuru Consumer Panel Survey Report.

This frequency exceeds every other aspect of a new food product measured in this survey.

Consumers review ingredients nearly as often (94.5% total, including 68.1% “almost always” and 26.4% “sometimes”). In our judgment, some of the likely reasons for this behavior are to guard against undesirable contents, and to imagine how it would taste and how a family member might enjoy it. 

The brand name is the third heaviest influence on the purchase decision. More than nine out of ten consumers (90.6%) look at the brand name, though it is largely a “sometimes” occurrence (52.8%) rather than “almost always” (37.8%). Two years ago, the overall frequency was higher at 93.0%, but private labels and alternate brands are on more shopping lists and shoppers’ minds these days.

Consumers also look at the type of preservatives or additives a product has more than in recent years. Of the 85.6% that do this “almost always/sometimes,” most (56.2%) do it “almost always.” Although that’s not quite as high as last year’s 59.0% level, it easily surpasses 2010’s 51.0% and 2009’s 42.0% marks.

Because people do want to eat healthier, it seems logical that 84.0% “almost always/sometimes” look at health claims. The 42.1% who do this “almost always” sustain a seven-point jump in this group that occurred in 2010. The percentage might be higher still if consumers could put their full trust in health claims printed on packages.

Nearly eight out of ten consumers (79.3%) also look at where a product was made “almost always/sometimes” – a probable reaction to food-safety incidents in China and post-tsunami Japan. And almost seven out of ten consumers (68.6%) look at organic claims “almost always/sometimes.”