Grocery shopping is no longer a one-stop experience
Mandy Roberson spends her Sundays driving from one store to another to buy all the groceries she needs for the week.
To find bargains, the 28-year-old blogger from Queen Creek, Ariz.,heads to the Sprouts organic supermarket for produce, meat and condiments, She drives to Target for dairy items, eggs, bottled water and paper products. Then, she zips over to Sam's Club for frozen fruit, granola bars and cereals.
"We have picked our favorite spots, because we know there are more options out there for meals. It doesn't have to be from one store. We can go someplace we like a little better," Roberson said.
For an increasing number of shoppers, the days of one-stop shopping have gone the way of home-delivered milk in glass bottles. Half of American grocery-shoppers go to three or more stores to get their food and household supplies — five items or more per stop — according to Magid, a Minneapolis-based research firm.
Multiple-stop shopping is a throwback to the first half of the 20th century before the birth of the modern supermarket.
Those Americans didn’t go to a 30-aisle behemoth where they could find everything. They went to the butcher shop, the bakery and the produce stand. On errands lists now are big box stores with large grocery sections, like Walmart; warehouse stores, such as Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club; no-frills grocery stores, including Aldi and newcomer Lidl; natural-food stores, like Whole Foods; and specialty stores, including ethnic markets, mom-and-pop shops and regional chains, which carry local brands and exclusive products.
"If you look at a traditional 40,000-50,000-square-foot supermarket, it’s a dinosaur. It’s extinct," said analyst Phil Lempert of supermarketguru.com, a website that tracks food industry news. "People don't want to go to one store and walk up and down the aisles and look at 50,000 products. It’s just not a great experience."
The shift is due to the increasing popularity of smaller markets, the splintering of specialty food purveyors and loyalty to chains’ house brands. It's a way to hunt for lower-prices and it enables people to participate in the pervasive foodie culture, in consumers want to know manufacturers' back stories and their commitment to the environment. They also want to turn shipping to an adventure, seeking out the newest or most obscure foods.
"We’re in the throes of the decline of the one-stop shop," said Magid senior vice president Matt Sargent. "We’re seeing smaller specialty stores pulling from super centers and the traditional grocery stores."
Turning grocery shopping into a fun outing is one way supermarkets are fighting to maintain or rebuild their basket share. Some have upped their ready-to-eat food sections to make certain dishes their traffic drivers. Others host in-store events, like wine-powered shopping trips, or amp up the shelf space dedicated to local craft beers.
To stay relevant in the increasingly fragmented landscape, Kroger, the largest supermarket chains in the United States, has expanded its organic offerings, emphasized customer service and offered special discounts and promotions to people with customer loyalty cards, according to spokeswoman Kristal Howard.
"We don’t just look at our competitors as being traditional grocery stores. We’re starting to shift our thinking to 'share of stomach.' There’s $1.5 trillion that Americans spend on food, whether a grocery store, convenience store, dollar store. We want a greater stake," she said. "Our most loyal customers, on average, only spend 50 cents of their food dollar with us."
Consider Roberson, who not only goes to Sprouts, Target and Sam's Club, but sometimes, also shops midweek at a local butcher for more upscale pork cuts, a convenience store for beer or wine and Trader Joe's for fresh flowers.
She does it to save money and to get the specific products she feels each store does best.
"We like the quality of things, so I’d rather make the drive and spend the money there," Roberson said.
For an industry already besieged by new competition from online delivery services and dwindling margins, this multi-stop shopping is yet another alarm sounded.
"People are picking and choosing where to buy things. That’s a good adventure for consumers. The stores are nervous and trying to figure it out," Lempert said. "They used to have a loyal shopper who went every Friday or Saturday and bought everything. Millennials and Generation Z don't care."