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Survey shows need for healthy options

In this March 1 2011 phoConnie Booth picks out an avocado while shopping Kroger Co. supermarket Cincinnati. Wholesale prices jumped

In this March 1, 2011 photo, Connie Booth picks out an avocado while shopping at a Kroger Co. supermarket, in Cincinnati. Wholesale prices jumped last month by the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

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Updated: March 6, 2013 2:29AM

This year, shoppers will see supermarkets either as part of the problem or part of the solution to help them live better. Questions they ask, as they assess where they shop, will connect food with their lifestyles and focus less on price.

Recently I released the findings of this year’s benchmarked National Grocers Association | SupermarketGuru Consumer Panel Survey and lead a discussion of the findings with industry leaders including two industry leaders from Chicago — Mark Batenic, chief executive officer, IGA, Inc., and Art Potash, chief executive officer, Potash Market.

Since about six in 10 Americans concede they could eat “a lot/somewhat healthier,” retailers should stress the daily importance of produce and perimeter foods. More than seven in 10 (70.9 percent) say they eat more fruits and vegetables to ensure a healthy diet. Good thing, since nine in 10 (90 percent) call high-quality fruits and vegetables the top feature in a primary supermarket — and 90.1 percent rate their main grocer “excellent/good” on this measure. This is the highest-ever rating in the NGA-SG survey’s history.

“Health” repeats as the number one reason why people eat fresh foods, but the margin by which it outpaces “taste” narrows. “Health” mentions slide to 58.2 percent from last year’s 61 percent, and “taste” mentions rise to 37.5 percent from 35 percent. This is good news — more people may actually enjoy eating healthier, and so they’ll continue.

Healthful eating prospects improve long-term for another reason too: the two youngest age groups, 24 and under (71 percent) and those 25 to 39 (67.6 percent) lead the “health” response. Perimeter fresh foods are today’s traffic magnets. Nearly 7 in 10 consumers (69.2 percent) say these are what pull them into their primary supermarket. That’s up from 66.4 percent in 2012.

For two out of three consumers (64.6 percent), produce takes command again as the number one reason they select a particular store to shop for their groceries.

Among the topics we discussed, all areas that mattered to shoppers: Do stores offer enough nutritional guidance and better-for-my-family foods? Are stores easy to navigate and convenient? Are enough experts available (butchers, cheesemongers, nutritionists, deli chefs) to help shoppers serve great meals at home that satisfy and support our household wellness? And, do shoppers feel welcome and appreciated?

Potash pointed to a trip up the elevator to his store on the 44th floor of the John Hancock building as a perfect example. Two customers joined him and as they rode up the elevator he asked what they liked about the store. One reminded him to be sure he maintained the high level of fresh foods he was selling, “otherwise no matter how convenient the store was being in her place of business, she would go elsewhere.”

So what did the survey find retailers should align deeply with consumers in 2013? A focus on healthy/fresh/local expertise and assortments to help people eat smarter, cooking insights to raise consumer confidence in the kitchen, easy store layouts and speedy checkouts.

Batenic cautioned the audience of national independent grocers that to meet these shopper needs, the industry also has to educate and empower their workers — right down to the baggers — about these topics as well.

Phil Lempert is the editor of and reports on the latest trends on NBC’s “Today” show, ABC’s “The View” and local Chicago news programs.

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