Food buying gets up close and personal

April 25, 2012

No more laissez-faire shopping for U.S. consumers - they want to know where their food comes from, what’s in it, whether it’s safe, and more.

If food shopping used to be like speed dating—after a momentary impression at the shelf, an item went in the cart or not—those days are largely gone.

For four years now, people have pinched their purses and changed their shopping practices around the concept of cost. Supermarkets have gotten better at meeting the intensified pricing and promotion demands of American households.

However, the next test for food stores will be tougher—because it will require retailers to become more than distribution gateways for the products they sell. They’ll need to be knowledgeable food purveyors, readily able to answer questions about a food’s origin, contents, nutrition value and safety. Stores unable to meet this new standard will likely lose consumer confidence, because people demand to know more about what they eat, in our view at The Lempert Report.

We think the greatest impact will be felt in the perimeter departments, which hold great potential to grow based on excellence in conveying knowledge about foods that pass muster. At a 12,000-square-foot IGA in Windham, CT, owner Bob Buonomano sees a payoff from his investment in training meat cutters of fresh beef, pork, chicken, lamb and veal so they can also speak with customers about what they sell.  “Not only do they know how to cut meat, they can share knowledge with customers…so shoppers don’t have to go somewhere else to find it,” he told Food News Today. His meat department often rings up between $100,000 and $150,000 per week.

His website,, is a website of resource material on how retailers can merchandise, market and cook meat products, and answer common shopper questions about meat.

Meat is one key area where supermarkets can build this approach, then expand into deli, seafood, bakery and more. Dietitians on staff, such as at Hy-Vee, can address many questions on center-store products as well.