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From the International Sweetener Symposium:
STOWE, Vt.—Consumers want fresh, convenient food, along with the ability to leverage digital platforms, according to a panel of experts at the 31st International Sweetener Symposium.
Through years of economic uncertainty and flat sales, consumers continue to gravitate towards maximizing value. Convenience plays an increasingly important role, and the ability to bring traditional online shopping into the grocery aisles represents an opportunity for the food industry.
“Value has consistently been atop consumers minds,” said Todd Hale, senior vice president, consumer and shopper insights, with Nielsen. “But with the rise in demand for convenience, so to does the rise in demand for online grocery shopping. Consumers increasingly want to ‘click and collect’ their groceries – the traditional battle for ‘shelf space’ now includes the battle for ‘clicks’ and ‘eyeballs’ online.”
Hale cited the explosive growth of online grocery sales in Europe as an example of the tremendous opportunity in digital sales. Online grocery sales are expected to double in five key European markets by 2016: Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.
While North American consumers lag their global counterparts in online ordering for traditional grocery-store purchases, rapid expansion of grocery offerings from pure-play e-commerce retailers and traditional brick and mortar retailers clearly signal the growth potential. The use of subscription services and low or free delivery charges show retailer’s willingness to capture critical consumer dollars at a time when competition is only growing, he noted.
Underscoring the importance of convenience, Hale told attendees that fresh and fresh prepared food purchases sold in the perimeter of supermarkets, as well as in other retail outlets like convenience stores, mass merchandisers, club stores, etc. are outperforming center store categories and are expected to continue to grow with strong consumer demand and intensified retailer focus.
The panel’s moderator Andy Briscoe, president and CEO of the Sugar Association, reminded attendees of the importance of all-natural sugar in foods as a preservative that extends the freshness of foods. He concluded that while consumer trends may change, the importance of all-natural sugar as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle has not changed and urged consumers to be aware of and understand the differences between the 30 sweeteners used in U.S. foods, mostly man-made.