Consumer confidence in food safety is at its highest point in seven years, with 88 percent of shoppers “completely” or “somewhat” confident in the safety of food at the supermarket, according to theFood Marketing Institute(FMI), which released its 2011 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report during a convention in Dallas.

“Supermarkets have built consumer trust by taking extensive measures to safeguard food sold in grocery stores,” said FMI President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie G. Sarasin. “By working closely with suppliers to ensure safety standards are met, by training staff on best practices for safe food handling and educating consumers about food safety, retailers are a critical link in the safety of the food supply.”

More than 90 percent of shoppers agree “strongly” or “somewhat” with the statement that they trust their grocery stores to ensure the food they eat is safe and more than half of shoppers agree strongly. 

When asked where they believe the food safety breaches occur, more than half of shoppers named food processing and manufacturing plants. However, when respondents were asked who is responsible for ensuring food safety, more than half (58 percent) of respondents say they are responsible for the safety of their food, up 7 points from 2010. Next on the list are manufacturers and processors at 35 percent, followed by supermarkets and government agencies at 28 percent each.

Consumers continue to be most comfortable with food grown in the United States versus imported products:  97 percent of shoppers are either “very” or “somewhat” comfortable with U.S. grown food. The survey also found that men are more comfortable with imported foods compared to women.  For example, 76 percent of men are comfortable with food imported from Latin and South America versus 58 percent of women.  The survey also found that younger shoppers are significantly more comfortable with imported foods compared to shoppers aged 65 or older.

The higher level of consumer trust in supermarkets to sell safe food resulted in fewer respondents who claim they stopped purchasing certain food items because of food safety concerns.  Only 12 percent of shoppers say they no longer purchase an item because of food safety concerns.

While 2011 has not had many high-profile food recalls, consumer confidence in food safety is greatly affected by recall activity.  Today’s technology is making it easier for food manufacturers and retailers to communicate food recall announcements quickly to a broad audience.

Shoppers continue to tighten their belts

Rising fuel costs, higher commodity prices and increasing international market demand for food are pushing food inflation higher and higher.  As a result of the economic pressures, the number of trips shoppers make to buy groceries plunged to 1.69 trips per week, its lowest level in the history of Trends.  People shopping for groceries only once a week rose from 29 percent to 34 percent and those shopping once every other week increased 8 points to 20 percent.  Shoppers spend an average of $97.30 per week on groceries in 2011, more than three-quarters of it at their primary store.

The majority of shoppers drive less than five miles to their primary store, but 60 percent do not shop for groceries at the store closest or most convenient to their home.  Two thirds of respondents (67 percent) say the number one reason they bypass the closest store was to seek lower prices. Another important factor in selecting a primary store was great selection and variety cited by 23 percent of shoppers.

The Trends survey found shoppers are satisfied with their primary store, rating it 8.4 points on a 10 point scale, its highest level in many years. Nine in 10 shoppers visit a full service supermarket at least once a month.  Nearly 60 percent visit a supercenter once a month, followed by warehouse club stores (27 percent).

Regardless of whether a shopper is making a stock-up trip to the store or a quick trip, 46 percent of shoppers pay for groceries with a debit card, followed by 30 percent who use credit. Only 15 percent of transactions are paid by cash and even fewer by check.   

Economic concerns complicate consumer decisions about healthy eating

The Trends survey found that while consumers are interested in nutrition, money worries are complicating their ability to make healthy choices when deciding what to eat.  Fewer shoppers (39 percent) claim to be “very” concerned about eating healthfully, down from 45 percent in 2010.  Only 44 percent say they incorporate at least one healthy food into their diet. 

An overwhelming 90 percent believe home-cooked meals are healthier and more affordable than eating out.  The vast majority (82 percent) of shoppers say they are responsible for ensuring that the food they eat is nutritious. Others they hold responsible:

food manufacturers and processors (48 percent)
government agencies (30 percent)
supermarkets (29 percent)
Consumers are giving supermarkets higher satisfaction scores when it comes to providing nutritional information at the store, with 68 percent of shoppers reporting they are either “somewhat” or “very satisfied” with the information provided at the store level.

Nutrition labeling programs are being offered in many supermarkets as a way to provide guidance to help shoppers make informed decisions about food quickly, easily and with confidence.  Less than one-third (29 percent) of those surveyed consider themselves “very knowledgeable” in the area of nutrition and nearly half (49 percent) say they are not expert in this area.  Only 17 percent admitted they could use some help in understanding nutrition labeling information.

Growing consumer interest in locally grown products

Consumers continue to show strong support for locally grown products with eight in ten say they purchase these products occasionally.  While there is no agreed upon definition of what exactly is “local,”  44 percent of consumers say state lines determine what they consider local, and another 41 percent consider local as a product being produced within a certain mile radius from where they live.  For some retailers, local is determined by travel time, whereas for others the state, county or the mileage rate is the determining factor.

Despite enormous pressure on price and value in the midst of the recession, interest in organic is holding steady, which is a positive indicator for future growth.  Among those who have decided not to continue purchasing organic, 85 percent said cost is the main reason. Another important reason cited by 38 percent is their preference to buy locally grown foods instead.

Retailer and supplier environmental and sustainability efforts have been not been greatly impacted by the recession.  A supermarket’s sustainability efforts are considered very important to 18 percent of shoppers, down just one point from the previous year.

Consumers’ commitment to sustainability continues to grow, especially those behaviors that require little or no consumer sacrifice.  Compared to 2008:

Shoppers recycling plastic rose 62 percent to 75 percent in 2011.
Consumers recycling paper jumped from 63 percent to 74 percent.
Shoppers recycling cans increased from 70 percent to 78 percent.
The majority of shoppers (58 percent) claim to have strong environmental tendencies and nearly one-third describe themselves as having moderate environmental practices.


Data for U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2011, were collected through two independent surveys using an Internet methodology.  Online surveys were conducted between January 26 and February 15, 2011 among a nationally representative sample of 2,048 U.S. grocery shoppers. A split sample methodology was used wherein 1,022 respondents were given the shopping habits questionnaire and 1,026 received the nutrition and food safety questionnaire.  The respondent must have met the following requirements to participate in the survey: a minimum of 18 years of age, primary or equally shared responsibility for food shopping, and they must have shopped for groceries in the past two weeks.