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Cost over quality: Market Basket named top grocer as pricier retailers hit hard amid inflation

Market Basket bested Aldi and third-placed Winco as the top-ranked grocer during inflationary times, according to dunnhumby's Retailer Preference Index, a comprehensive nationwide study of the $1 trillion U.S. grocery market. The report examined which grocers are winning customers as the economy falters. Grocery Outlet and Save A Lot rounded out the top five due to their superior ability to save customers money at a time when this matters more than ever.

“Market Basket has shown itself to be the best performing retailer in these times of economic uncertainty, by being the best in the country at saving customers money while simultaneously building stronger emotional connections with their shoppers and thereby increasing their shopper visits faster than most other retailers,” said Grant Steadman, president of North America for dunnhumby. “Retailers who are focusing their customer value proposition on saving customers money are best positioned to meet the challenges of this prolonged period of inflation and economic uncertainty.”

The next five retailers in the top ten are Lidl, Dollar General, Food4LessFoodsCo, Family Dollar and Military Commissaries. The dunnhumby RPI: Special Inflation Edition was released as part of The dunnhumby Quarterly: a strategic market analysis of key retail themes, with the latest edition focused on consumers’ reaction to rising grocery prices.

While Amazon is better positioned than any retailer for long-term success in grocery, its value proposition for inflationary times is no better than the average grocer. As a result, Amazon dropped out of the first quartile as its web traffic declined 6.5 percent so far this year. H-E-B, the top-ranked eCommerce retailer in the dunnhumby eCommerce RPI, finished 12th.

Key findings from the study:

  • Market Basket topped all 69 retailers in the Inflation RPI rankings, even ahead of household discounter names like Aldi, Dollar General and Walmart, by ranking first in the U.S. in the save me money pillar. Market Basket is the only retailer in the U.S. that is in the top-five in both base price perception and mass promotions perceptions. Aldi, meanwhile, is just in the top-five in base price perception.
  • The “save me money” customer driver is five times more important than the next-most important drivers, save me time and make it better. However, for driving long-term results, saving customers money is only one-and-a-half times more important than delivering high quality. The last two preference drivers — make it seamless and make it dependable — have virtually no association with retailer outcomes. The “make it seamless” preference driver refers to the customer’s need delivered by eCommerce and digital capabilities while the “make it dependable” preference driver refers to out-of-stock rates for a retailer.
  • Base price followers have no room for error. But these retailers can minimize the damage and potentially even strengthen emotional bonds with customers by keeping base price gaps close while using best practices in orchestrating execution of mass promotions, communications, personalization and private brand. Kroger, Food Lion, BJs Wholesale and ShopRite are examples of retailers who have customer value propositions that stand up best to base price leaders during inflationary times.
  • Inflationary times are a big headwind for premium specialty retailers (such as Sprouts, Wegmans, and The Fresh Market) and for regional grocers with a quality-first position (i.e., Publix and Harris Teeter). These retailers are not well positioned for inflationary times since they currently are too far behind most of the market in save me money perceptions. These retailers are also behind the market in year-over-year visit growth during 2022.
  • Inflationary times are a big tailwind for discounters such as Dollar General, Family Dollar, Grocery Outlet, Lidl and Save-a-Lot. Conversely, during periods of economic stability these stores have a highly vulnerable proposition for the long term due to quality weaknesses. They are also vulnerable due to much higher cross-shop with each other and other inflation-ready retailers like Walmart. For example, 81 percent of Dollar General shoppers cross-shop Walmart, and 38 percent cross-shop Family Dollar.
  • Inflationary winds have also taken some of the wind out of club channel sales. Club channel retailers (Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ's Wholesale) are underperforming the market in year-over-year visit growth in 2022. According to Placer.ai, the club channel was down 1.9 percent in the first half of 2022 compared to the first half of 2021, slower than any other channel. This is notable because the club channel tends to be the channel that is best positioned for success over the long term. The current club channel difficulties reflect misalignment with shoppers’ behavior shifting toward spreading their spending out over more visits with smaller baskets. Additionally, lower income shoppers are more likely to shift toward smaller pack sizes during inflationary times.

The overall RPI rankings are the result of a consumer survey-informed statistical model that predicts how retailers execute on the customer needs that matter most for driving performance and emotional bonds with shoppers. As part of this study, two online surveys, one in October 2021, just as inflation was beginning to heat up, and a second survey in May-June of 2022, were conducted surveying 18,000 grocery shoppers. dunnhumby then modeled how differences in shoppers’ perceptions impacted foot traffic and web traffic growth during 2022, as well as emotional connections with shoppers. Foot traffic data was sourced from Placer.ai, and web traffic was sourced from global digital analytics provider, Similarweb. Sixty-nine of the largest U.S. grocery retailers in conventional, mass, club, specialty, discounter, drug, and dollar channels were included in the RPI.

The full RPI report can be accessed today.

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