The Independent’s Playbook: Defend Your Claim to Mealtime

November 14, 2022

By Jim Dudlicek / Director, Communications and External Affairs

There’s admittedly not a lot to cheer about economy-wise at the moment. Fuel prices are still high, with talk of a diesel shortage. The Fed hiked interest rates again. And just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re hearing that turkeys are in short supply due to avian flu.

All that adds up to higher price tags for consumers and sagging public confidence in the economy, according to the latest consumer sentiment study from data tracker Numerator.

According to the study, 65% of consumers have a high level of concern regarding the economy, up five points from last month; 74% feel as though the country is in an economic recession and 71% believe it will worsen in the next few months.

Numerator further reports that folks across all income levels plan to spend less in the coming months, with eating out (44%) and travel (41%) topping the list of household budget cuts.

Those point to more eating at home, an opportunity for grocers not only to enhance their share of stomach, but to stress the value of meals from the grocery store over restaurants and reinforce grocers’ commitment to helping their communities weather the economic storm.

The fact that folks are indicating they’ll curtail eating out due to costs is a good sign for grocers, especially since inflation for grocery has been outpacing restaurants, leading some analysts to speculate that restaurant meals are becoming a better deal than eating at home. But strategic shopping will always make grocer stores the more thrifty option, especially when you take selection and a greater potential for leftovers into consideration.

Experts say that, at least for the moment, eating at home, in most cases, is still cheaper. According to data from the newly merged Information Resources Inc. and The NPD Group, the typical away-from-home eating occasion still costs 3.4 times more than in-home food sourced from retail.

Still, the all-too-familiar tune of at least the past two decades is that grocery can’t let its guard down even when it does seem to have the upper hand.

Independent community grocers must actively engage their shoppers about how they can better serve their household mealtime needs. Recipes, recommendations, cooking tips, substitution suggestions for hard-to-get or out-of-stock items – these need to be part of the grocer’s daily routine. And in the one area where restaurants might have grocery beat – convenience – demonstrate how wholesome family meals can be easily assembled from prepared foods and other ready-to-use ingredients for a better value than can be had at the diner or drive-through.

And while e-commerce is here to stay, expect to see more folks in your store as their comfort level with being out and about continues to grow. Numerator says that while consumers are increasingly concerned about the economy, pandemic concerns have dropped significantly, with only 4% of consumers naming the pandemic as a primary concern over the next few months.