Stores can do plenty when shoppers skip nutrition for savings

Articles
May 21, 2009

Stores can do plenty when shoppers skip nutrition for savings

It’s time, we think, for food stores to step up and help households struggling in this recession in ways that go beyond promotional savings at the shelf. Trouble is, these savings have their limits. And deals don’t necessarily conform with consumers’ needs in a particular week or month. If retailers were willing to think deeper about giving people savings when they want them on the goods they want, they’d differentiate from other stores in a most meaningful way. The pressures on consumers are mounting. The United States unemployment rate stands at a 26-year high, and looks ready to blow through the 9% level (about twice that in some minorities). As a result, many of the same families that sustained stores so well in good times now need help from the retailers selling them what they need to survive. While chains take a gut check and decide the extent to which they can help, they could also broaden their savings platforms—perhaps offer ‘your choice’ of several items, or increase the percentage of total discount based on increments in basket size. Even better, they could skew their value offers to promote more healthful choices—knowing that in a recession consumers might need to be encouraged to make the right nutritional choice if it costs more.

It’s time, we think, for food stores to step up and help households struggling in this recession in ways that go beyond promotional savings at the shelf.

Trouble is, these savings have their limits. And deals don’t necessarily conform with consumers’ needs in a particular week or month. If retailers were willing to think deeper about giving people savings when they want them on the goods they want, they’d differentiate from other stores in a most meaningful way.

The pressures on consumers are mounting.  The United States unemployment rate stands at a 26-year high, and looks ready to blow through the 9% level (about twice that in some minorities). As a result, many of the same families that sustained stores so well in good times now need help from the retailers selling them what they need to survive.

While chains take a gut check and decide the extent to which they can help, they could also broaden their savings platforms—perhaps offer ‘your choice’ of several items, or increase the percentage of total discount based on increments in basket size.

Even better, they could skew their value offers to promote more healthful choices—knowing that in a recession consumers might need to be encouraged to make the right nutritional choice if it costs more.

It is well documented that seniors skip medication doses to save money when they are on fixed incomes. This phenomenon has now spread to people with diabetes, a fast-growing population susceptible to serious health complications if the disease goes unchecked. Doctors told Associated Press recently how middle-class patients who lost their jobs and insurance are spacing out visits, skipping medications, and trying diet and exercise on their own to try to manage the ravaging illness—despite the disease’s potential to cost lives, limbs and more. Theses people are trading a short-term economic benefit (saving money) for a long-term risk of seriously compromised health or death.

Strapped by the costs of food, fuel and drugs, a majority (64%) say they’ve cut back on ‘better for you’ food purchases in this difficult economy—52% ‘a little,’ and 12% ‘a lot,’ in a new SupermarketGuru.com Quick Poll.

Nearly all (98%) claim to have ‘a decent understanding’ of foods that are good or bad for health; 82% buy ‘better for you’ foods in good times, even if they cost more; and 86% acknowledge they make a difference in their everyday performance.  Yet most cut back in tough times.

Nearly half (48%) express regrets about cutting back. Two-thirds of those (67%) will buy them again “when they feel they can afford them,” they told the Quick Poll.

What do they think would help them most to buy ‘better for you foods’ in the recession? According to the survey: Promotional discounts (90%), coupons (83%), larger bulk packages (22%), single-serve packages (18%) and more in-store education that teaches the benefits/values of these foods (16%).

Some of these become ‘must’ offers, as are ideas cited higher up in the story. We urge retailers to get creative and commit to their customers in off-the-shelf ways. Examples: Extend employment offers to people in their markets where possible. Sponsor job fairs. Mentor some students or recent graduates. Offer low-cost resume printing, phone cards, dry cleaning of suits and shirts for interviews, gym memberships and banking programs—all of which bring more traffic to the store, and build the foundation for a stronger recovery for all parties.