Shoppers want sales specials, now more than ever

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Both in-store and online

Supermarket News Bill Wilson | Oct 19, 2023


The share of meals prepared at home increased to 78.8%, slightly up from August (76.8%).


With summer coming to a halt, many consumers were back in the kitchen making home-prepped meals in September.

The share of meals prepared at home increased to 78.8%, slightly up from August (76.8%), according to a recent category update from 210 Analytics (with data provided by Circana).

“This upholds patterns observed in 2021 and 2022, in which at-home meal preparation dips in the summer and increases month-over-month throughout the fall and holiday season,” said Jonna Parker, team lead of fresh for Circana.
Along with the historical pattern, an inflation filled economy also impacted at-home meal preparation patterns. The Circana data found that 24% of consumers do more scratch cooking these days and 42% prioritize leftovers as a means of another meal.

Moreover, 89% of consumers continue to see grocery prices as being more expensive than last year, and more of them are taking advantage of sale promotions and using more simple ingredients to help balance the budget.

In fact, Circana found that 58% are looking for sales specials more often, which is now led by in-store signage and app searches rather than paper ads, 49% are cutting back on non-essentials, and 39% are buying private brands.

Home entertaining is also on the rise during the latter months of the year, which means shoppers are buying foods like salty snack chips (45% are serving at home), pizza (38%), wings (28%), and sweet snacks (21%).

“These are big opportunities for snacking fruits and vegetables,” said Joe Watson, VP of retail, foodservice, and wholesale for the International Fresh Produce Association. “Merchandising addressing big college, national, or international sporting events add to the lineup of more important holidays and everyday celebrations and are key times when consumers are willing to splurge a little more.”

Inflation insights

The price per unit across all foods and beverages in the Circana-measured multi-outlet stores, including supermarkets, club, mass, supercenter, drug, and military, increased by 3.1% in September 2023 (the four weeks ending Oct. 1) vs. September 2022.

Fresh produce prices continued to increase in September versus their year-ago levels, but much less so than total food and beverages. On a per-pound basis, fruit prices increased by 1.3% year-on-year whereas vegetable prices were nearly flat, with just a small increase of 0.5% in September.

Success all around for fresh produce

The four September 2023 weeks generated $58.2 billion total food and beverage sales, up 0.2% over September 2022, though unit sales trailed behind. Perishables, including produce, seafood, meat, bakery and deli, had a below-average dollar growth performance (-0.6%) but this was entirely prompted by the different levels of inflation as illustrated by the better-than-average unit performance (-1.3% vs. -3.9% for center-store grocery).

September 2023 fresh produce sales reached $5.7 billion.

“What a performance by the fresh produce department with gains in dollars, units and pounds,” Watson noted. “The third consecutive month of positive pound ground marks the official comeback for the department going into the fall months.”

The first week of September had a bit of a holiday boost, at $1.5 billion versus $1.4 billion the remaining three weeks.

A boom for berries

Three months of positive pound gains averaged into a 1.4% increase in pounds for fresh produce during the third quarter of the year when compared to 2022.

The investment in price on the fruit side paid off in large volume gains of 1.6% over September 2022.

Berries ($615 million, up 6.1% year-over-year), grapes ($370 million, up 4.5%), and apples ($333 million, down 2.5%) were the dollar leaders for fruit sales.

Vegetables were led by potatoes ($306 million), tomatoes ($282 million), and lettuce ($238 million), although tomatoes was the only category that saw a year-over-year increase in September (up 3.1%).

Price for chicken drops

Chicken prices at retail continued to be more favorable for the consumer, at an average price per pound of $2.98. This was down 5.6% vs. September of 2022. September also brought year-on-year deflation for turkey, dinner and breakfast sausage, smoked ham, and processed chicken, whereas the renewed inflation in beef continued. The average retail price of beef increased by 6.7% per pound after several months of deflation.

In September 2023, flat prices in combination with fewer pounds sold than last year resulted in meat dollar sales being down 1.4% year-on-year.

Catfish scratches out a win

Seafood prices came down for fresh (driven by shellfish) and shelf-stable seafood (cans and pouches). Inflation for frozen seafood was below average at +1.6% in September 2023 vs. September 2022.

Sales across the top eight fresh seafood species were very inconsistent in September. Market leader, salmon, generated more than twice the sales of the No. 2, crab. Volume sales were down for all species, with the one exception of catfish, that increased by 1.9%.

For frozen, shrimp led the way at $235 million, which was down 9.4% year-over-year.

Shell shock in dairy

The average price per unit for dairy fell below year-ago levels by 3.0% in September.

At the category level, growth ranged from 15.2% in the plus for cottage cheese to a decline of 20.4% for eggs.

“Eggs are lapping the months of 60%+ inflation and we are likely to see deep dollar declines for a while to come,” said Parker.

Soups and chili warm up

Deli-prepared foods generated $1.9 billion September and improved unit sales above year-ago levels. Soups and chili, pizza, and prepared meats led the charge.

“The strength of deli-prepared food continues to be very encouraging,” Parker said. “It reflects a marketplace in which consumers need a break from cooking every once in a while, but as part of the ongoing balancing act, it is deli that is increasingly winning those trips over restaurants.”

Pies and donuts

Bakery department sales totaled $3.3 billion in September, but unit sales were down 3.2% vs. 2022.

However, unit growth was experienced in perimeter bakery behind pies (up 2.4%), donuts (up 1.9%), and buns and rolls (up 0.1%).

Frozen potatoes peel away

The 2.0% price per unit increase for total frozen foods in September masks a wide range of price movements at the category level. Beverages and fruits and vegetables, driven by potato-based products, experienced double-digit price per unit increases whereas prices for frozen meat/poultry and frozen seafood came down compared to September 2022.

Plain potatoes experienced a 62.9% increase in unit sales year-over-year. Hash browns were up 6.6%. Frozen carrots finished second in units sold vs. September 2022 with an 8.9% and onions stood at 5.4%. Frozen fruit was up 3.1% year-over-year.


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