Soaring food prices turn more shoppers into bargain hunters

Rising food prices are pushing American consumers to fill their baskets with cheaper groceries.

Shoppers are looking for more discounts and turning to lower-cost store brands for cooking oil, frozen foods and items in other grocery sections, supermarket executives said. To stretch their dollars, people are increasingly comparing prices at various stores and signing up for savings programs such as autoship that offer additional discounts.

The move marks a shift in consumer behavior after shoppers splurged on food at the start of the pandemic. Food companies said unemployment benefits and federal stimulus checks are leaving people with extra money and consumers are spending more on groceries as they cut restaurant meals and travel in 2020. So As inflation hits its highest rate in four decades, shoppers in recent months have started looking for ways to cut their food bills, industry executives and analysts said.

“I get creative trying to save money,” said Natalie Existe, a health counselor who lives in New Jersey. She said she buys groceries in bulk and compares prices from several online retailers before going shopping in person.

Ms Existe said she checks weekly flyers for bargains and cuts spending on hair and nail appointments as overall prices for goods rise. She said she’s noticed higher prices for meat, vegetables, and drinks like orange juice and cranberry juice, and now spends about $200 per trip on groceries for herself and her family. 12-year-old son, up from $125-150 a few months ago.

The US Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index, which tracks the costs of consumer goods and services, rose 7% in December from the same month in 2020, the fastest pace since 1982. home food index rose 6.5% in 2021, the largest year-on-year increase since 2008. The meat, poultry, fish and egg index rose 12.5% ​​from 2020 to 2021, while fruits, vegetables, grains and baked goods were also more expensive.

More price increases are to come. Main food suppliers including Mondelez International Inc.,

General Mills Inc.

and Campbell’s soup Co.

said they expected further increases to take effect in January, following others implemented by food companies last year. Industries such as consumer products and manufacturing also charged more for goods, citing higher wages, transportation costs and materials.

“Hopefully that ‘transient inflation’ vocabulary has left people’s vocabulary,” said Stuart Aitken, chief merchant and chief marketing officer at Kroger. Co.

Private label, which tends to be cheaper than branded goods, accounted for about 21% of food and beverage sales in U.S. retail stores for the 12 weeks ending Dec. 26, according to the firm. of IRI studies. During this period, private label petroleum products gained 4.4 points in market share over branded versions, according to IRI, while private label biscuits gained 1.6 points and vegetables frozen gained 1.4 points.

Rising costs for everyday foods like bacon and fruit have raised concerns about inflation. Here’s why you might pay more for breakfast and what that says about future price trends. Photo: Carter McCall/WSJ

“People think more about value,” said Nick Green, managing director of online grocer Thrive Market. The company’s customers are increasingly interested in cashback offers and sales events, he said, adding that the latest Black Friday and New Year’s Eve sales were two of the top three generating events. revenue for Thrive Market since its inception in 2014.


What, if anything, are you doing to reduce your food bills at the grocery store? Join the conversation below.

Not all shoppers are resistant to price increases, some retail executives said. Alan Perlman, co-founder and principal owner of discount chain Ocean State Job Lot, said consumers are increasingly getting used to higher prices and it’s hard to know how much people are dropping in the middle. supply disruptions and other macroeconomic factors.

Supermarket executives said they were trying to get more discounted items from a wider range of suppliers while fending off price hikes. Many plan to put more private label products in their aisles this year, as demand increases again for private label.

These private label items lost market share in 2020, in part because consumers flocked to familiar products and food makers prioritized national brands, analysts and industry executives said. sector. Inventory of private label products has since increased, helping them regain space in supermarket aisles.

Campbell Soup is among the food vendors raising prices.


Kristen Norman for the Wall Street Journal

At Kroger’s more than 2,700 U.S. locations, private label sales are growing in the pasta, bacon and frozen fruit aisles, Aitken said, adding shoppers are also buying more product brands. fresh such as tomatoes and charcuterie. The supermarket operator plans to add more variety to its own private label products this year by analyzing customer data, he said.

Consumers have become more aware of protein prices and are reducing their consumption of expensive meat, grocers said. This spreads to other foods, and some mid-priced items become less popular as cheaper options sell out, they said. Tony Sarsam, managing director of food retailer and distributor SpartanNash Co.

said people are buying less mid-priced ice cream because they are buying cheaper items or saving up to buy premium items.

New York-based Morton Williams Supermarkets tries to source cheaper items from vendors before launching promotions, said Steve Schwartz, who oversees buying and pricing at the grocer. Product shortages are making things difficult, he said, as many vendors have cut their expected sales, with one vendor offering 60 pages of offers compared to the usual 175.

Lauren Eccleston, an account manager for a manufacturing company, said she recently bought the cheapest deli available when she shopped at a ShopRite store in Manahawkin, NJ. Ms Eccleston said she doesn’t skimp on her organic lettuce and other produce, but buys store brands of soup or canned milk as her overall bill soars by $60 to $80. When shopping for chicken, turkey or meat, Ms Eccleston said she only buys the amount she needs.

“I was never someone who was very price-conscious. I’m looking now,” she said.

Write to Jaewon Kang at

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