Preventing a Food Fight at Home: Helping Customers Clarify their Household Food Philosophy

The majority of supermarket customers walking the aisles of the average grocery store are performing this activity in some level of collaboration with another member of their household. I say some level of collaboration because the way each family partners or splits the shopping duties, divides the list or allocates responsibilities is a bit different. And in fact, changing life circumstances—a new job, some shift in time demand, a return to school, etc.—frequently cause a realignment of the way the shopping is divided and done. For about a quarter of shoppers this partnership is pretty much 50-50, with some couples actually doing most of their shopping together; others in this shared shopping category prefer the approach of "you take your half of the list and shop when and where you want, I take my half and handle it as I prefer."

Other partner-shoppers, what we used to designate as primary-secondary shoppers, still retain a bit of that traditional flavor, with one person taking more of a lead and the other being—more or less—assigned the items to pick up. Our research bears out that the partner taking the lead in a co-shopper household is usually the one assuming more responsibility for preparing the evening meal. However, even in a lead-and-delegate co-shopper partnership, there is more equality than may be acknowledged. The co-shopper with assigned duties will go off-list to pick up the breakfast foods, lunch materials and snacks he/she prefers and in that way, contribute significantly to the household task of grocery shopping. This is a contributing factor to why almost 85 percent of American shoppers claim responsibility for at least half the grocery shopping for the household.

Last year, FMI's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends research highlighted the growing shared shopper paradigm. This year, with our research partners, the Hartman Group, we dug a bit deeper into that phenomenon, seeking to gain a bit more understanding into how the household split in grocery shopping responsibilities took place. Just as the key to effective communication comes in knowing your audience, we believe the key to effective marketing requires you to know your customer. Our thinking was that if almost two-thirds of grocery customers are performing their shopping in tandem with another member of their household, then food retailers need to better understand that dynamic.

In addition to surveying more than 2,000 shoppers, our research also included 10 ethnographic interviews. For three hours each, we asked—I could say grilled, but that would be a bad pun—two household members about their shopping, cooking and eating customs. These interviews convinced me that American families need help in candidly communicating with each other about their family's food philosophy. Most of the couples thanked us for being curious about their thoughts and shopping patterns, but I think most were more appreciative of the fact we had given them the opportunity to have an honest exchange about their views in a non-threatening atmosphere.

In family food philosophy circles, the three most common problem areas are taste, health and cost. One family member prefers bland, the other likes spice; one partner wants healthier options, the other really likes his or her chips and dip and doughnuts; one partner will be willing to buy a cheaper cut of meat, but not skimp when it comes to buying organic, while the other could care less about organic and is willing to splurge on artisan independent beers. But as is often the case in many areas of human relationships, the root issue of the missed connection is communication—or the lack of it.

American couples are sharing in the food shopping adventure, but can benefit from clear, clean and productive conversations about their taste preferences, wellness goals and food budgeting. As their trusted collaborator in the food shopping venture, food retailers are well positioned to prompt some of these conversations. Your store flyer or social media outlet can be utilized to help promote table talks that invite couples to speak with each other and not at each other about their family food philosophy. You can help them exchange needed information, helping them to make shopping truly a shared experience, not just a split list.