Catalina, St. Petersburg, Fla., released new shopper research showing the center store remains a vital driver of trips and volume for grocery retailers, with more than 99% of all shoppers purchasing from the center store in 2017. 

The new report, "The Center Store Revolution: Innovation Drives Trips and Category Growth," identifies the biggest sub-category gainers and losers in the center store, and shows that specific cross-category consumer preferences like "heart healthy," "low fat," "trans-fat avoiders" and "GMO avoiders" are fueling the growth of some of the fastest growing product sub-categories.

Big winners include non-fat/low-fat ice cream and value-priced frozen dinners, among other categories.

Other findings include:

  • The center store accounted for 60 annual trips per shopper, per store, down just one trip per shopper, per store from 2016.
  • Some 99.5% of all shoppers frequented the center store in 2017, spending an average of $1,408 a year there.
  • 81% of all shopping baskets included at least one center store item.

"The center store is alive and well," says Marta Cyhan, head of marketing. "Some 8 in 10 baskets we looked at included a center store item, but many consumers are looking to discover something different. A new generation of brands and sub-categories are reinvigorating the center store by appealing to lifestyle and ingredient-based preferences."

Motivations behind fast-growing categories
The report highlights a variety of product sub-categories driving center store performance, and explores how evolving consumer motivations, identified through Catalina's ingredient-level shopper intelligence, are fueling their growth. 

Among the study's findings based on ingredient-level shopper intelligence:

Non-fat, low-fat, light ice cream

  • This sub-category grew 66.9% percent in dollar sales, while regular and premium ice cream declined 3.3%.
  • The average shopper in this category spent $21.37.
  • Heart-healthy shoppers spent 2.7 times the average, or $56.76.
  • Trans-fat avoiders spent an average of $52.19.
  • Low-fat shoppers spent $48.87.
  • Natural ingredient shoppers averaged $46.99.

Frozen dinners/entrées (value priced)

  • This sub-category, which is increasingly emphasizing healthy options, increased dollar sales by 32.9% and trips by 24.2%.
  • The average shopper in this subcategory spent $13.47.
  • However, heart-healthy shoppers spent 43% more, or $19.25.

"Our study demonstrates that brands and retailers who can understand today's shoppers based on their underlying motivations and meet their evolving needs with product innovation will be a growth engine for the center store," Cyhan says. "The ability to engage the right shoppers based on ingredient-level targeting will help these brands efficiently grow their business."

About the study
The Center Store Revolution study tracked center store sales for some 18 million shoppers at 6,658 grocery stores across the United States. Purchasing behavior, sales and trips for the full 52 weeks of 2017 were compared with the same period and the same stores in 2016. The center store was defined as including grocery, frozen and home care categories. Tobacco and alcohol were excluded due to local legal variances.