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Sainsbury’s Provides Snapshot Of Consumers

J Sainsbury has come out with some interesting information. The big U.K. retailer has been studying what food people buy at all British supermarkets and published this report:

May 8, 2007


Health drive changes the face of weekly shop

The Great British weekly food shop is getting leaner but healthier according to new research from Sainsbury’s — and reveals for the first time the 20 items that are being left on the shelf as Brits bid to get in shape.

Over the last nine months, Sainsbury’s has tracked the weekly shopping habits of more than 18,000 people — spanning all regions and all supermarkets — to get a detailed picture of what’s in the nation’s shopping trolley. The study establishes changes to the weekly shop that run deeper than seasonal or ‘fad’ factors.

Preliminary findings from the forthcoming report:

  • The size of the weekly shop has shrunk by 5% as people cut back on the more indulgent items. In July 2006 the average Brit purchased 42 items every week compared with 39 in February 2007.
  • Since the summer, fruit, vegetable and salad have consistently commanded around 30% “share of trolley” — rain or shine (see table one).
  • Burgers, fizzy drinks, chocolate and sugary cereals are among the biggest fallers (see table two).
  • Soup has been the big hit of 2007 so far — tinned soup up 44% and packet soup up 80% (see table three).
  • Health correlates with age not wealth. Older people eat better (see table four).

Charlotte Parker, Sainsbury’s nutritionist commented: “Our ongoing research dashes the assumption that Brits eat well only when the sun comes out. By tracking the weekly shopping habits of 18,000 families for four consecutive weeks every quarter, it is apparent that millions of people are taking a pragmatic and sustainable approach to health and diet. Rather than attempt radical changes or fad diets, people are taking a series of small steps to eat better and these can make a big difference in the long run.”

We are not comfortable with comparing a market basket from July of last year to one from February of this year. The drop in number of items may simply be due to seasonal differences. We also note that more and more people are getting food at non-supermarkets, such as Costco. So we can’t really deduce changes in eating habits solely on this study — still it is intriguing.

Table one: What the UK weekly shop looks like
Category breakdown of the UK weekly trolley: February 2007

Category Average number of items purchased a week Percentage “share of trolley”
Fruit, veg & salad 11.5 29%
Cupboard items 7 18%
Dairy 4 10%
Ready / prepared meals 4 10%
Meat 3.7 9.4%
Drinks — hot and cold 2.5 6.4%
Crisps & biscuits 2 5%
Breads / bakery 1.6 4%
Cakes & desserts 1 2.5%
Fish 1 2.5%
Alcohol 0.7 2%
TOTAL 39 items 99

It is exciting to see that produce accounts for 29% of the trolley — but this is number of items, not dollars or pounds sterling! It does show how important produce is to a supermarket, even more than the dollar figures would typically show.

Table two: Off our trolleys — 20 items in continual decline
(Percentage of Brits purchasing as weekly items over three consecutive quarters and overall percentage fall in popularity)

June/July Sept/Oct Jan/Feb Fall over
9 months
Butter 60% 58% 53% 12%
Cucumber 59% 52% 43% 27%
Cooked meats 48% 47% 43% 10%
Fizzy drinks 43% 42% 36% 14%
Squash 32% 31% 26% 19%
Berries and cherries 30% 22% 14% 53%
Cold pies 22% 20% 17% 23%
Frosted cereals 22% 21% 18% 22%
Frozen pizza 21% 20% 18% 14%
Brown sauce 18% 16% 14% 22%
Lager 19% 16% 12% 37%
Chocolate 16% 15% 12% 25%
Individual desserts 15% 14% 11% 27%
Fresh burgers 13% 10% 6% 54%
Regional cheeses 15% 14% 13% 13%
Donuts and cookies 12% 11% 8% 33%
Frozen burgers 11% 9% 7% 36%
Brie 10% 9% 8% 20%
Luxury crisps 10% 8% 6% 40%
Real ale 7% 6% 4% 43%

Once again, many of these items are seasonal and have to be compared year to year. No real shock that sales of berries, cherries, fresh burgers, etc., have collapsed since summer. Some are seasonal products and so the statistics are contrasting locally grown with expensive imports.

In the case of burgers, they may be seasonal in a habitual way with less grilling and what not.

Table 3: The Famous Five: Biggest hits of 2007 so far

Item % buying each week % Rise over 9 months
Packet soup 10% +80%
Tinned tomatoes 63% +79%
Tinned soup 36% +44%
Citrus fruits 43% +13%
Root vegetables 57% +12%

As summer fruit goes down, one would expect to see citrus and root vegetables go up — and that is what has happened. It is a little odd that Sainsbury’s didn’t mention anything about this dynamic.

Table 4: Age correlations with more healthy food shopping

Food category Age group MOST likely to buy Age group LEAST likely to buy
Fresh fruit 55+ 18 — 24
Fresh vegetable and salad 55+ 18 — 24
Fresh fish 55+ 18 — 24
Fresh meat 45 — 54 18 — 24
Dairy 45 — 54 18 — 24
Bread and fresh cakes 45 — 54 25 — 34
Hot drinks 45 — 54 18 — 24
Frozen foods 35 — 44 55+
Soft drinks 35 — 44 55+
Fresh desserts 35 — 44 55+
Cupboard foods 25 — 34 55+
Fresh ready meals 18 — 24 55+
Fresh quiche/ pasta/pizza 18 — 24 55+
Alcohol 18 — 24 55+

This is somewhat troubling for the produce industry, although not unexpected. Older consumers are most likely to buy fresh produce.

Although one wonders if it is age as much as life stage. We would like to see break-downs with things like “children living at home,” “married” and “employed full time outside the home,” and we suspect these factors are more important than age per se.

Sainsbury’s is anxious to get some publicity for its investment in research but the truth is that it is a little premature. Food is very seasonal and these numbers won’t really start telling us much until we can compare winter to winter, summer to summer, etc.

In addition it would be a good idea to broaden the project to include food purchases at convenience stores, warehouse clubs, etc., so we have a more complete snapshot of what people are buying.

Still, it is intriguing to know that produce is accounting for almost a third of the items the British consumer is purchasing at their local supermarket. And a little concerning that it is people 55 years old and older who are the most likely to buy produce.

Maybe we’ve been marketing produce a little too much like medicine?

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