Grocery Stores React to Cheapskate Shopping Habits

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Shoppers are closely watching what they buy, and supermarkets are watching and quickly reacting to how those shoppers spend. The result is change in grocery store aisles: Nowadays, you’re more likely to find discounted items (even in Whole Foods) and inexpensive store brands, and you’re much less likely to see fancy coffee bars or pricey prepared meals.

The Washington Post describes the revamped new approach from Whole Foods:

… from the very onset of the recession, Whole Foods had to do more than just trim expenses; it needed to prevent an exodus. As of last July, one-fifth of shoppers surveyed by research firm Retail Forward said they had already switched grocery stores to save money. Whole Foods’ reputation as an expensive place to shop — it’s been nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” — made it especially vulnerable to losing its customers. Instead of hunkering down and holding out for the economy to recover, Whole Foods began to experiment with ways of convincing customers that it was, in fact, an affordable place to shop, without actually slashing prices storewide.

Meanwhile, the WSJ reported that many grocery stores have taken a back-to-basics approach—which makes sense, because shoppers have done just that as well:

The recession-driven shift to eating at home more often is giving new life to grocery stores’ most basic offerings, and upending a multiyear strategy of using coffee bars, fancy bakeries and exotic products to attract shoppers…

Kroger, Stop & Shop, Publix and other big food chains tried for years to make themselves into a one-stop destination by revamping their store perimeters to include floral shops, prepared meals and other offerings. But the recession has refocused them on the staples sold in center aisles.

These chains are aggressively pushing private-label versions of canned vegetables, breakfast cereals and whole-wheat bread, draping center shelves with coupons and price comparisons, and bundling ingredients for homemade meals.

The products you see on supermarket shelves may not only be cheaper, they may be different—tweaked, less expensive versions of brands you know well, like Tide.

Mainstream supermarkets not only have to compete with each other, but with salvage grocery stores—shops that sell dented canned foods and other slightly off products, and where shoppers are going in increasing numbers. Check out this list for a salvage grocery store in your neck of the woods.