Shopping for food becomes exercise in frugality
Ann Jorissen plans her grocery shopping trips days in advance and does the bulk of her food shopping at a grocery store in a neighboring town.
“I’m actually going a little bit out of the way as opposed to staying in the neighborhood,” said Jorissen, a book and magazine merchandiser from Norwell whose work takes her around the region. “I spent $70 (at Market Basket). If I bought it around here, it probably would have been $95 or more.”
Jorissen is among a growing number of cost-conscious shoppers who are planning grocery trips well in advance to maximize savings, cutting back on impulse purchases or switching to lower-cost brands.
“On Sunday, I read all the fliers to see who has what on sale, so when I’m on the road I’ll stop and I’ll buy my groceries there,” Jorissen said.
The flight to frugality poses a threat to supermarket chains, and an opportunity. Americans are dining out less often during the recession, and they’re being more discerning about where they shop for groceries and more careful about how much they spend.
Some grocery chains have expanded their lower-cost, private-label offerings in an effort to compete with wholesale clubs and discounters such as Wal-Mart and Target. They’ve also launched recipe programs in an appeal to customers who don’t have time to research recipes and want help with meal planning.
Supervalu, the parent of the Shaw’s and Star Market chains, this week announced a new “Simply Good Meals” menu planning program. The program includes in-store displays with recipes and ingredients for meals, including a meal for four for under $15.
Meanwhile, the struggling economy was the dominant theme of an “affordable food summit” held Tuesday at a Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. store in Quincy. Talk of disappearing jobs and shrinking household budgets echoed around the produce section as Stop & Shop executives and economic researchers took part in a panel discussion.
Stacy DeBroff, CEO of the parenting Web site Mom Central, said the recession has caused major changes in consumer behavior. An online survey conducted by the company found that 49 percent of the respondents were spending less on groceries, and the same percentage had cut back on buying take-out food.
“It’s across demographic lines,” DeBroff said. “It goes from the poorest of our families all the way up to high-income families that are cutting back.”
Paulette Thompson, a nutritionist and Stop & Shop’s manager of health and wellness, talked about ways to save money while buying healthy items.
In January, the Quincy-based chain launched a “Healthy Ideas” labeling campaign that spotlights nutritious foods. About 3,000 items earned the designation. A team of nutritionists chose the criteria for qualifying.
“It really helps busy moms not to have to read all the numbers and nutritional facts on the label,” Thompson said. “It cuts down your time, and you can trust it.”
Planning several dinners at the beginning of the week can save time and money, Thompson said. Planning ahead saves time and reduces stress “because it’s all done taking 10 minutes on a weekend to plan four dinner meals,” she said.
A recent study that was commissioned by the Food Marketing Institute confirmed that shoppers are doing less impulse buying in supermarkets.
In 2009, an estimated 76 percent of buying decisions are being made at home, up from 60 percent at the beginning of 2008, according to Information Resources Inc. of Chicago.
Kim Anton Myatt, a mother of two from Melrose, said she is more willing to go to several different stores to get the best prices.
“I’m making a lot more stops,” Anton Myatt said, explaining that she has become more price-sensitive since her husband faced the loss of his position as a software developer.
“I always start at Trader Joe’s, and then I go to Target, and then I go to Stop & Shop or Shaw’s, whichever one I’m closer to,” she said.
Her husband landed another job, but Anton Myatt continues to pick and choose where she shops in an attempt to stretch their household budget.
For the grocery industry, uncertainty surrounds whether such shopping strategies will linger beyond 2009.
“One of the things we’re looking at is whether this new consumer behavior is just a temporary thing until the recession ends, or are we looking at changes in shopping behavior that are going to be permanent?” Food Marketing Institute spokesman Bill Greer said. “That’s the big question right now.”
Patriot Ledger writer Steve Adams may be reached at email@example.com.