Trader Joe’s is North America’s favorite grocery store based on customer satisfaction, according to a new study of 6,600 consumers conducted by Market Force Information, a worldwide leader in customer intelligence solutions. Publix Super Markets and Whole Foods Market rounded out the top three. All three received high marks for courteous staff, inviting atmosphere and high-quality produce. Hy-Vee also scored well on those measures.
Market Force’s grocery retailer study was designed to uncover where consumers prefer to shop, as well as why they favor one grocer to another, among other factors. When asked to rate their satisfaction with their most recent grocery store experience and their likelihood to refer that grocer, consumers scored Trader Joe’s above all others. Publix, Whole Foods, Wegmans and ALDI also ranked high on the customer delight index, which reveals the intersection between overall satisfaction and the likelihood of recommending a grocer to friends/family. See Graph 1.

Graph 1: Favorite Grocery Store Chains on Delight Index

Trader Joe’s operates nearly 400 stores and has experienced steady growth in recent years. With a neighborhood-store feel, the national chain is known for its customer-centric operations and a revolving inventory of products that carry the Trader Joe’s brand name.

Most Frequented Grocers by Region
Market Force also looked at which grocery stores consumers frequent the most, asking where they had spent the majority of their money in the previous 30 days. Market Force parsed out the results by four U.S. regions, as well as Canada.

– Stop & Shop claimed the top spot, garnering 11% of the votes. GIANT came in second with 6%, and Wegmans and Market Basket tied for third with 5%.
South– Kroger ranked first with 16%, followed closely by Publix with 15% and
H-E-B in a distant third with 5%.
Midwest– Kroger again led the pack in this region with 11%. Meijer ranked second with 9% and Hy-Vee took the third spot with 8%.
West– Safeway led by a wide margin with 12%, Kroger earned 9% and Costco received 7%.
Canada– Loblaws dominated with 15%, while Sobeys took second with 11%. Costco and Safeway tied for third at 7%.
Convenience is Key, But Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story
Convenient location is the factor that consumers said they like most about their preferred grocery store – in fact, it ranked higher than prices, which was second on the list, while sales & promotions was third. See Graph 2.

Graph 2: What Consumers Like About Their Preferred Grocer

However, these characteristics aren’t necessarily helping grocery chains earn more business. When Market Force drilled deeper to see how the grocers fared in these areas, no one brand dominated the votes across these important characteristics, suggesting that they’re table-stake attributes that consumers have come to expect from their grocers. It was the operations-focused attributes that seem to make a bigger difference.  

Ralph’s Wins on Convenience, ALDI on Price  
As mentioned, none of the chains dominated in the five attributes that consumers said they like most about their preferred grocer, but some did shine in individual areas. Ralph’s ranked first in the important convenient location category, ALDI and WinCo were the price leaders, Winn-Dixie scored the top spot for sales & promotions, Meijer was recognized for its merchandise selection, and Walmart and Target were neck and neck for one-stop shopping. See Graph 3.

Graph 3: How Grocers Ranked on Key Attributes

“With most consumers satisfied with their grocery-shopping experiences, it makes for a very competitive playing field for grocers looking to distinguish themselves from the masses,” said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. “We start to see the greatest opportunities for differentiation in operations-related attributes such as fast check-outs, gracious staff and atmosphere.”    
Brands That Delight Are Operationally Excellent
Real competitive differentiation begins to emerge when viewing operational excellence attributes. In these areas, Market Force found that higher-satisfaction brands tend to outscore other grocery brands.  

Both Trader Joe’s and Publix performed well in the operational excellence attributes, with Trader Joe’s ranking first for its atmosphere and quick checkout process, and second in the other three categories. Publix was tops among shoppers for its cleanliness and courteous staff, and second to Trader Joe’s in atmosphere. Hy-Vee and H-E-B also fared consistently well in key categories. See Graph 4.

Graph 4: Rankings in Operational Excellence Attributes

Whole Foods Gets a Whole Lotta Love for Product Quality, Healthiness
When it comes to consumers’ perceptions of high-quality, healthy product selection, natural-food grocer Whole Foods dominated across the board. It was tops among shoppers in every category studied – from high-quality meat and produce to organic options and sustainable practices. It had an especially sizeable lead in the produce category. Trader Joe’s also scored in the top three of most of the attributes, as did Publix. See Graph 5.

Graph 5 – Rankings in Product Quality, Health and Sustainability Attributes

Fewer Cashing in on Coupons
Although some shoppers are practicing extreme couponing, that doesn’t seem to be a common trend. In fact, the research findings suggest a steady decline in coupon use over the past three years. Of those who are redeeming coupons, most are clipping them from a newspaper, magazine or other print media. The second most popular source for coupons is the grocery store. See Graph 6.

Graph 6 – How Often Consumers Redeemed Coupons in Past 30 Days
Survey Demographics
The survey was conducted in May 2013 across the United States and Canada. The pool of 6,645 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 60% reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 19 to over 65. Approximately 73% were women and 27% were men, and half have children at home.