Moving Family Food Governance from the Crown to the Ballot

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Moving Family Food Governance from the Crown to the Ballot

By Leslie G. Sarasin - 05/02/2015

A Letter from the President and CEO

Leslie G. Sarasin
"The age-old primary shopper paradigm in which one person does it all, flying solo in managing food prep and procurement, has given way to the shared shopper paradigm in which household members specialize and split responsibilities."

On any given day, a number of factors influence how we feel; our general mood and demeanor can be affected by the weather, work conditions, family dynamics, our health, how we slept the night before, the way the traffic did or did not flow on the morning commute, or how the financial report is shaping up. Taken individually, any one of these might be viewed as a minor happening, just a pothole in the highway of our day, calling for a simple swerve as we continue down the road. But sometimes a number of these factors converge to produce more than a hole – they create a ditch – calling for more considered adjustments and action. And if this convergence continues over time – meaning the colluding factors move from isolated incidents into the category of "just the way things are" – some serious rerouting likely is in order.

FMI's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2015 examines the major demographic, economic and cultural shifts that are converging to change the way Americans eat and the way they procure their food. Dramatic shifts in the composition of the American household, changes in the workforce and the harder-to-measure movements in gender attitudes have all been publicly documented. But the net result of all these trends is an America in which the majority of households are caught up in a massive reorganization of responsibilities. And in this shakeup, traditional rules and roles no longer apply. There was a time when the target audience for food retailers was crystal clear; our bull's eye was the mom who planned the menu, shopped and cooked (and probably cleaned) for herself, her husband and their 2.3 children. But we've moved from a target with a single bull's eye to a target with multiple bull's eyes that are migrating, redefining, even as we take aim. The age-old primary shopper paradigm in which one person does it all, flying solo in managing food prep and procurement, has given way to the shared shopper paradigm in which household members specialize and split responsibilities.

Expressed another way, the governance model regarding household food management is moving from a monarchy to a democracy. We at FMI were a bit surprised to find that 203 million people in America claim to be a primary shopper for their households – meaning they share in at least 50 percent of the grocery shopping. The surprising thing about the number is that there are only 123 million U.S. households. About 28 percent of those 123 million households are single occupant dwellings, what the U.S. Census terms "one-person households." These 34 million single households operate on a 1:1 primary shopper to household ratio. The remaining 89 million households are clearly operating on a much higher 1.9:1 shopper to household ratio, with more people participating significantly in the shopping role and each household potentially having multiple shoppers. With so many who consider themselves to be primary shoppers, we obviously are operating in shared territory. Adding the fact that these shoppers visit three different food retail venues fairly frequently forces us to ask what these changes are doing to the notion of store loyalty.

Savvy food retailers are aware that cultivating store loyalty now hinges on understanding and marketing to the different roles and responsibilities of each shopper within the household. Acknowledgement of the shift to the democratic model also calls for the industry to utilize communication technologies and platforms to help households communicate about, negotiate and better navigate their new shared food strategies. Food retailers need to seek out ways to encourage exploration and empower autonomous decision-making among all shoppers in the democratic household. Cooking classes contoured to the male shopper, innovative product pairings for those who seek to add new tastes to their menu repertoire and tips to help beginning shoppers maximize their experience are just a few ways to strengthen the reluctant, so they are fully invested in the family food democracy.

As the history of America can attest, the move from monarchy to democracy is fraught with fits and starts and trials and corrections as its citizens seek a sense of stability. American households are caught in the confusion created by a shift in governance models associated with their food strategy and are seeking guidance to make sense of a new division of labor. Their trusted food retailer can be a helpful ally in the negotiations, deliberations and compromises that are requisite in any working democracy.