‘Great shift’ in food shopping habits as prices soar

woman looking at supermarket shelvesImage Source, Getty Images

Analyst firm Kantar told the BBC there had been a “huge shift” in the way we shop since the pandemic.

Among the changes, shoppers are now making fewer trips to the supermarket, spending more on own-label goods and turning to loyalty programs for discounts.

The changes are being driven by a cost of living crisis as food prices soar.

But trends such as the rise of discounters Aldi and Lidl go back much further.

Based on data exclusively compiled by Kantar, the BBC has identified five main ways shopping is changing.

1. We shop less and spend more

According to the data, pre-Covid, the average household went to the grocery store 18 times a month, but that has now dropped to around 16 a month.

We’re also spending more on major stores than we were before the pandemic – although we’re not spending as much as we did during the lockdown.

“We’re still not going back to stores the way we used to be,” Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insights at Kantar, told the BBC.

“People are increasingly working from home, which reduces opportunities to shop.”

Iceland general manager Richard Walker said customer behavior at supermarkets confirmed the trend.

“In terms of products bought, we’re seeing an increase in sales, but actually stores are shopping less often,” he said. “So people are shopping more at the end of the month.”

2. The pace of online adoption slows down

Nearly 12% (11.7%) of UK grocery spending is now made online, down from a peak of 15.4% in February 2021 at the height of the pandemic, according to Kantar.

Mr McKevitt said this was because many older people who started shopping online during the lockdown had given up.

“These are people who now have time to go to the store and probably enjoy going out and traveling and meeting people.”

That said, online shopping remains more popular than it was pre-Covid, when it accounted for around 8% of grocery spending.

Catherine Shuttleworth, founder of retail analysts Savvy Marketing, said that over time many young people would “default to online shopping”.

Image Source, Getty Images

3. Rise of private label products

According to Kantar, about 45% of grocery sales in 2005 were private label, but by the end of 2022 that had risen to 51%.

“Even shoppers who would otherwise reject private label are now buying private label. So not only are people being forced to do so, those who have the option are also buying at reduced prices,” Ms Shuttleworth said.

Supermarkets have also been expanding their private label range as it helps them stand out in a competitive market.

Ms Shuttleworth said the trend might be temporary, but people who tried private labels were likely to like and stick with them too.

Image Source, Getty Images

4. The discounters are here to stay

Sales at discounters Aldi and Lidl soared more than 23% year-on-year in the 12 weeks to May 14, according to Kantar figures.

That’s more than double the rate of sales growth at Tesco and Sainsbury’s, the UK’s two largest supermarkets.

Discounters have been gaining market share for a decade, but they have been boosted by the cost of living crisis as consumers look to save.

Last year, Aldi overtook Morrisons to become the UK’s fourth-largest supermarket, while Adam Leyland, editor of Grocer magazine, believes Lidl will soon become the fifth-largest supermarket.

“Historically, discounters have been the main store and second stores to discounters, but we’re seeing Aldi and Lidl increasingly being the main store with secondary stores elsewhere,” he said.

“However, very few people do all their shopping at Aldi or Lidl – they tend to be part of the repertoire.”

Their rise has coincided with an increase in price matching and other supermarkets that are fighting back to broaden their base ranges.

Take high-end grocer Waitrose, which told the BBC its Essentials eggs cost £6 at £1.25, cheaper than Aldi and Asda.

5. People turn to loyalty programs for discounts

The number of in-store transactions at supermarkets has fallen sharply since 2014, according to Kantar data. They accounted for 40% of all grocery spending then, compared to 25% today.

Instead, shoppers are increasingly turning to supermarket loyalty schemes for discounts.

These programs used to be about collecting points that could be exchanged for experiences such as going out for a break. But most have been remodeled or expanded to offer shoppers in-store or personalized offers.

Examples of recent launches include Tesco’s Clubcard Prices scheme, Morrisons More (replacing its My Morrisons scheme) and Lidl Plus.

In order to access loyalty program promotions, you must scan your card or app when paying. In return, retailers collect your data, which they can sell to brands for marketing purposes.

Mr Leyland said the schemes weren’t really designed to drive loyalty, as most shoppers would be members of more than one scheme.

“There used to be a physical limit to the number of cards you could carry in your wallet, but now you can have an unlimited number of loyalty program apps on your phone.”

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How can I save money at my grocery store?

  • Take a look in your cupboards so you know what you already have
  • Head to the minified section first to see if it has what you need
  • Buy stuff close to the expiration date, it will be cheaper and use your freezer

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