Consumers & Packaged Foods

The Lempert Report
October 20, 2015

Consumers are buying more packaged foods from bulk stores and warehouse stores, good for the wallet but what about the waistline?

According to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, consumers are increasingly using mass merchandisers, warehouse clubs and convenience stores to buy food from, but unfortunately they are selecting foods with poor nutritional profiles.

This new study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that while consumers are increasingly purchasing packaged foods from these bulk and discount stores, unfortunately, the kind of food on offer here tends to have poorer nutrient profiles, higher calories and more sugar, sodium, and saturated fat compared to those in grocery stores. 

Lead researcher, Dr. Barry Popkin, said in a statement, "previous studies on the relationship between the food environment and its association to diet have paid insufficient attention to the types of stores where people shop for food, what they actually purchase, and the nutrient profile of those purchases."

Popkin's team collected their data with Nielsen Homescan, a tool that scans the barcodes and tracks the details of all packaged foods and beverages, and observed the buying habits of 652,023 households in 52 metropolitan and 24 non-metropolitan areas between 2000 and 2012.

During this period, they found that food purchases from grocery chains dropped from 58.5 percent to 46.3 percent. Food purchases increased from 13.1 to 23.9 percent for mass merchandisers, 3.6 to 5.9 percent for convenience stores and from 6.2 to 9.8 percent for warehouse clubs. The most popular packaged food purchases were savory snacks (chips, pretzels), grain-based desserts (cookies, cakes) and regular soft drinks.

While it might make sense for shoppers stock up on certain packaged goods in bulk, or pick up a pack of their favorite crackers while at the discount store, customers may need a reminder about healthy food choices and how to seek out more nutritional options. Supermarkets need to make sure they are not missing out here and should be always working with their shoppers to provide tips and advice as well as deals and promotions on healthier produce and more nutritious products.