Supermarkets May Be Missing a Huge Opportunity
Business + Economy

Supermarkets May Be Missing a Huge Opportunity

You may not think about it as you stroll through your local supermarket’s aisles, but the shelves stocked with food and the displays promoting specials are a constant battleground for stores trying to get you to buy more and for marketers trying to get you to pick their product.

As that battle goes on, a new report suggests that big chain grocers are missing a big opportunity by not stocking more ethnic foods.

Although major supermarkets have improved their ethnic food selection as demand has increased, 63 percent of ethnic shoppers in the U.S. still complain they can’t find enough ethnic food and ingredients at their main grocery store, according to a report just released from LoyaltyOne, a marketing program provider. More than half of ethnic consumers, or 59 percent, say they have to visit three or more specialized stores to find the full product selection they want. 

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“There is huge opportunity in calibrating product mix to satisfy the desire for foods and products that ethnically diverse consumers are looking for,” said Graeme McVie, vice president and general manager of business development for LoyaltyOne, in the report.

The opportunity for supermarkets extends beyond drawing more ethnic shoppers. Even as 85 percent of ethnic shoppers said they would cook ethnic foods more often if the right ingredients were available, 65 percent of non-ethnic shoppers in the survey feel this way as well.

If the survey findings present supermarkets with a potential path to new sales, that strategy comes with some big challenges. First, it won’t work for every location of every chain. A community would need “critical mass” of any ethnic group to stock products devoted to the groups. Also, introducing new items isn’t easy, especially when some stores already carry thousands and thousands of products. Removing existing products from the shelves without alienating existing customers can be a delicate and data-intensive task, the LoyaltyOne report acknowledges. 

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Even if supermarkets add or increase their selection of ethnic food – and that’s a big if – they still won’t offer all the products that ethnic shoppers may be looking for and that they know they can find at their local ethnic grocery store.

It’s also increasingly easy to go one-stop shopping for ethnic ingredients online, on and on specialized websites. Some people can also ask friends and family to mail or bring back items from their native country, although obviously not all items can be brought into the country.

From a social and cultural standpoint, ethnic shoppers might lose more than they would gain if they could find all, or most, ethnic ingredients they need at the supermarket. Shopping at a local ethnic grocery store encompasses more than simply buying the food you or your family used to eat in your home country. It’s also a way to stay in touch with a community and as a result to preserve an identity.

Still, as the demographics of the country change, the products on our supermarket shelves likely will, too. As the new report points out, it’s just smart business. 

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