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We all know about the big vote on 29 May, but it can be easy to forget that shoppers are making critical votes every day. With their grocery spend.  

In our analogy, grocery shoppers are the voting public. Retailers are the political parties competing for votes. The media is saturated with ads and campaigns. The promises fly thick and fast. 

And these financial ‘votes’ are literally critical, with shoppers having to wield their grocery ‘votes’ ever more carefully as economic conditions continue to put pressure on household budgets, economic headwinds that include interest rate hikes pushing up the price of debt, fuel price increases and load shedding. 

Groceries are a significant portion of household spend for most households, so climbing food inflation (and salary and wage increases not keeping up) means grocery budgets are being stretched to breaking point. 

It’s possibly no surprise then that ‘great special offers’ is the reason most shoppers shop at their most frequent store, but how sustainable is this? Classical brand theorists will cluck about strong brands not being grounded in price, and the ‘race to the bottom’.  

There are two factors that mitigate a potential all-out price war landscape.  

Firstly, when we ask shoppers what ‘value’ means to them, the answer is not ‘cheapest prices’ or even ‘special offers and promotions’ – it is ‘good quality at a reasonable price’. This answer is worthy of a whole research focus on its own, but it does reinforce the concept that price can never be fully divorced from quality, and that the trade-off or balance between the price and quality of an offer is essential to understand (and deliver on), because it differs significantly across shopper segments, and even within categories for a single shopper. 

Secondly, there is a fair amount of trust vested in the retail landscape – 36% of shoppers say they ten-out-of-ten trust that retailers are doing their best to bring shoppers value. A further 24% give a score of eight or nine, bringing the total to 50% of shoppers who have strong trust in retailers. And trust is crucial for a strong relationship.  

Shoppers may have a store where they shop most often, but they are shopping around – a lot. In our sample of shoppers (1,225 grocery shoppers recruited online, profile weighted back to the national profile of household grocery shoppers), 62% have a repertoire of four or more grocery stores (including Clicks and Dis-Chem). Interestingly, while shoppers SAY that loyalty programmes make them more loyal to a store, their behaviour (and their store and loyalty programme repertoires) say otherwise… 

Shoppers are working hard to stretch their grocery budgets. We gave shoppers in our survey a list of 25 things they might be doing to save money, and each chose an average of 4.9. No-one said they were doing nothing to save money. 

But shoppers are still willing to pay a premium – for the right benefit. The most widely recognised benefits are fresh products that last longer, superior quality, excellent health benefits, beloved brands and bigger packs.  

‘Environmentally friendly’ is a benefit that gets a lot of attention, with most trend reports and consumer research reporting that shoppers and consumers are increasingly demanding environmental responsibility from products, brands and retailers. We found that fewer than one in three of the shoppers in our survey said they would be willing to pay a premium for a product with solid eco-credentials (outside of the top five most mentioned benefits), but those who said they were willing to pay were among the most likely to say the benefit was their TOP priority.   

And to complicate things further, a new generation is trickling into the grocery shopping sector – Gen Z. These 27-and-unders are more educated than older cohorts, more demanding, more reliant on technology and digital channels and information sources (grocery influencers on TikTok are a ‘thing’). They’re also the generation most likely to trust retailers, so that at least bodes well for the sector. 

We are watching with interest to see how wisely Gen Z will vote, both in the retail and political arena. 

The insights shared in this article come from Ti's newly released SA Grocery Shopper report. The report analyses the profiles and behaviour of shoppers across various segments. 

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