By: Nicole Scott, Senior Product Manager, Food & Beverage, Phononic

With the holiday season upon us, grocers need to take some pointers from Santa himself. Making your list and checking it twice does not just ring true at the North Pole, but also at grocery stores – for consumers and retailers alike. With the meal being a central point of holiday gatherings, grocers need to be prepared to not only assist shoppers in finding all of the ingredients they need for their seasonal greetings around the dining room table, but also keep them coming back after the tinsel and lights have been stored away.  

As retail continues to evolve and adapt with the rise of e-commerce, Phononic recently took a closer look at consumer food shopping habits and preferences, and how these are changing. Our State of Grocery Retail Report, which surveyed over 2,000 U.S. consumers, discovered that holiday food shoppers want convenience, efficiency, quality and fresh products. So, what does this mean for the future of the grocery store, and the food industry at large?

Eliminating the Holiday Headache

The minute the dishes are washed and the leftovers are put away from Thanksgiving dinner, you can feel the start of the holiday shopping season in the air. Some people are thrilled – getting their gloves and hats on as they head out the door, eager to find the best doorbuster deals. Others are already feeling the onset of a holiday headache – pulling out their laptops and mobile devices to fill up their online carts and await deliveries right to their doors.

It comes as no surprise that, according to our recent findings, 57% of shoppers agree that crowds and long lines are the most frustrating part of shopping during the holiday season. This is followed by 22% noting the frustration of not be able to find the items that they need and 20% highlighting low stock of popular items as their biggest in-store irritant. With these things in mind, grocers need to consider both their layout and their inventory to best serve their clientele.

Convenience is King: Elevating the In-Store Experience

Some retailers are already making technological strides towards making the in-store shopping experience more pleasant. In fact, earlier this year, Walmart launched mobile device checkout systems so that shoppers could avoid the stress of busy checkout lines during the holiday season. Adopting technology is critical to keeping customers happy, but it doesn’t stop there.

Grocers need to rethink their in-store layout as a whole. In fact, we found that more than half of consumers believe that grocery retailers can make the holidays easier by grouping holiday items in one area of the store. Also notable is that the age group that led this preference are those 18-34 years old. As grocers look to create a strong relationship with the Gen Z and Millennial shoppers who will be in their checkout lines for years to come, adjusting to their desires is important.

Stocking shelves with similar types of non-perishable items is a seemingly simple fix. However, this becomes much more complicated once perishable items enter the mix, and the need for climate-controlled in-store areas becomes increasingly apparent. With this, grocers must examine distributed cooling options that will give frozen and refrigerated foods new placement possibilities. These products are typically strapped to the back of the store and could now be brought to point-of-sale locations throughout the entire store layout – making for a quicker and more streamlined shopper experience.

Redefining Checkout: Quick Quality and Freshness

As grocers restructure shelving displays and look to streamline the checkout process, they also need to rethink what is displayed at the point of sale. The Gen Z and Millennial age groups expect grab-n-go options that are also high in quality and freshness. In fact, our research found that 26% of 18-to-34-year-olds want to see popular items at checkout, 24% want premade holiday meals in-store, and 22% want more meal kits readily available. Unlike older generations with classic handwritten lists of ingredients, providing these individuals with quick options in an easy-to-find format is key.

Traditionally a location for impulse purchases like candy and soda, during the holidays, 25% of consumers would like to see fresh produce at the register. In fact, fresh produce topped the list of the six items consumers would most like to see at the checkout counter during the holiday season. This might be surprising as many pop their green bean casseroles in the oven and stir their stuffing on the stovetop. However, with 31% of consumers ranking product quality over best deals/lowest prices, retailers should swap the sweets for healthier, high-quality grab-n-go options.

Season to Impress: Increasing Customer Loyalty

Shopper loyalty is key to the success of any retailer, as “regulars” can be counted on to bring in consistent business.  And the Phononic survey found that in general, most consumers are loyal to their favorite food retailer – in fact, nearly a third of all U.S. consumers identify as “loyal shoppers,” with a slightly smaller 27% of respondents identifying as “bargain hunters,” grabbing the best deal wherever they can. However, simply because the majority of consumers consider themselves loyal doesn’t mean that grocers should sit back and wait for the shoppers to come to them. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.

Our research found that the holiday season is a time when consumers typically shop around to find exactly what they’re looking for – more than a third of consumers make several trips to different stores for their holiday food shopping. As established patterns fall to the wayside during the holiday season, retailers must be prepared to impress – especially for younger shoppers, who were found to care more about bargains than loyalty to begin with. By adapting to consumer interests this year, grocers can transform a spur-of-the-moment grocery trip into a long-term relationship, where consumers don’t just head back for their turkey next year, but also fill their cart on a weekly basis.

By making the in-store grocery experience easier and more efficient, grocers can turn an often dreaded shopping trip into a delightful one. And once the holiday décor is taken down and the leftovers eaten, grocery retailers should reflect on the experience to create strong shopper momentum in the year ahead.

With 17+ years of experience in technical design, product management, and marketing, Nicole is an expert in food & beverage market intelligence and go-to market strategy. At Phononic, Nicole leads the launch of revolutionary sustainable freezers and refrigerators that are transforming the food & beverage retail environment.