Which Grocers Do Consumers Trust Most?

NEW YORK -- Playing out on a brutally competitive, complex checkerboard, the situation food retailers face today is anything but “easy as pie.”

Retailers are jockeying to stake claim to a bigger slice of the sizzling $669 billion U.S. grocery pie. The unprecedented level of pressure confronted by both existing and emerging competitors has triggered a climate tantamount to an escalating grocery arms race—and nowhere more than the uppermost ranks of the ladder.

Moreover, as online and discount retailers plunge their knives deeper into the dish, the business of selling food will become even more unrelenting, with the upshot focused on becoming a go-to grocery destination for consumers, who now have more choices than ever.

Accordingly, the time is right to take a comprehensive, real-time look at American consumers’ perceptions of grocery retailers from coast to coast. To that end, CSP sister magazine Winsight Grocery Business enlisted the expertise of market research firm BrandSpark International for the first Most Trusted U.S. Food Retailers market study. Respondents for the data in this exclusive research were garnered from a panel of U.S. residents 18 and older who participate in grocery shopping for their households. The national sample of 2,488 respondents was recruited via email to an online survey in September 2017.

Here's a look at the results ...

In Walmart they trust

While Walmart Inc. is generally panned in the majority of national grocery surveys for its big-box sameness, lackluster fresh departments and subpar service, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s status as the most trusted grocery retailer is among the study’s most surprising findings. A full 20%, or one in five shoppers, visit Walmart for their groceries and, accordingly, consider it to be their most trusted retailer vs. any other store. As such, while its top standing vividly underscores its pervasive presence stemming from its 5,352 locations—which includes 3,538 supercenters, 412 conventional discount stores, 701 Neighborhood Markets, 48 small formats and 653 Sam’s Clubs—Walmart’s executive team has wisely abandoned resting on its captive market penetration to power it into the next age.

Buoyed with a full head of steam to marry the accessibility of its stores with a new fleet of digital offerings, the world’s largest retailer is clearly bent on retaining its stature, with aggressive expectations to grow its net sales around or above 3% in fiscal 2019 alongside a 40% jump in U.S. e-commerce sales—including plans to add 1,000 more online grocery locations domestically. Known for its cavernous, vanilla stores, Walmart will also protect its turf by breaking with conventional strategy to instead invest in remodels and bolstering its online presence rather than building new locations.

Redefining Kroger

The Kroger Co.’s family of 2,800 stores, which operate under a variety of local banners in 35 states and the District of Columbia, paced as the Most Trusted Retailer runner-up, winning trust among 13% of grocery shoppers. While Kroger saw its stock plunge more than 37% last year, the world’s third-largest retailer continues to hold sway with American shoppers.

To stoke the fi res with new-age kindling, the Cincinnati-based company is mounting an aggressive campaign to catapult itself into the future of grocery by embarking on a strategic reset. In 2017, Kroger revealed its new Restock effort, aimed at “redefining the grocery experience” with heavy capital investments—$9 billion over the next three years—coupled with cost savings in opportune business segments. This includes the sale of more than 760 stores from Kroger’s $4 billion convenience-store business to U.K.-based EG Group in February 2018.

The central goal of Kroger’s Restock plan focuses on improving the customer shopping experience, both online and in stores; investing an incremental $500 million in store associates for better pay and training; and expanding its Scan, Bag, Go program from 20 stores in late 2017 to 400 this year.

In addition, Kroger plans to accelerate its customer-value proposition with heavier investments in infrastructure and technology upgrades that will be further bolstered by creating additional revenue streams, including its internet of things sensor network, video analytics and artificial intelligence.

Aldi and Publix Super Markets also factored high on the Most Trusted retailers’ leaderboard as the remaining two to surpass the 5% benchmark, followed next by Trader Joe’s and Safeway, which each earned a 4% Most Trusted grade, and Target and ShopRite, which scored a 3% nod among U.S. food shoppers.

Recent trends

When asked which grocery store they’ve shopped most often in the past six months, Walmart has the dominant lead among nearly 60% of survey respondents. In other words, almost six in 10 American shoppers visited Walmart for groceries in the past six months, while one in four shoppers’ food dollars were spent in the discount grocery leader Aldi (26%), followed next by Kroger and Target, which tied at 23%.

Other top retailers breaking the 10% or better benchmark of food stores most frequently visited in the past six months: Aldi’s sister specialty grocer Trader Joe’s (13%), Publix (12%), Safeway (11%) and Albertsons (10%).

True believers

Consistent with their companies’ renowned reputations for top-notch service and on-point merchandising, shoppers who visited H-E-B, Kroger, Publix and Wegmans in the past six months consider these four retailers to be the most trusted among 32 of their peers, with scores at or above 45%. While the number of shoppers visiting these four retailers’ stores varies greatly, the aforementioned banners are likely to be visited most frequently—and named as the most trusted—for complete grocery shopping trips by their shoppers.

Also not surprising is H-E-B’s standing as the most trusted grocery retailer among loyalists, nearly 60% of which indicate their affinity for the San Antonio-based retailer.

Further, 2% of American household shoppers name H-E-B as their primary store for groceries, but 57% of H-E-B shoppers name the banner as their most trusted, earning more citations than any other retailer receives from its core shoppers.

Methodology

Respondents for the Most Trusted U.S. Food Retailers’ research study were recruited via email to an online survey in September 2017. The study was conducted in conjunction with the BrandSpark Most Trusted Retailers study, 2017 edition.

Respondents were garnered from a national panel representing residents of the United States over the age of 18 who participate in grocery shopping for their household. The sample of 2,488 respondents is nationally representative by age, gender, census region and income level. The final weighted sample is 68% women and 32% men.

Insights for the Most Trusted U.S. Food Retailers’ research was conducted by BrandSpark International, which combines real-world consumer and shopper insights with marketing credentials and services.

BrandSpark Research focuses on insights that decode the shopper mindset, specializing in understanding their retail and e-commerce experiences.

BrandSpark Marketing Services runs leading CPG awards programs such as Best New Product Awards and BrandSpark Most Trusted Awards, as well as consumer product trial and amplification platform Shopper Army.

For more information, visit BrandSpark.com.