All across America, the multi-billion business of grocery retailing is embracing a new type of shopper, the healthy lifestyle consumer. There are many ways to approach this selective and sensitive breed of customer, and some are doing it better than others. More than anything at this stage in the process, it is a learning experience for all, large or small. 

“Customer-first” has been a key driver of sustainable growth at The Kroger Co., and in the first quarter the strategy helped spur impressive sales gains. The Cincinnati-based retailer reported its latest quarterly sales increased 10 percent to $32,961 million from $29,997 million. In a June 19 conference call with analysts, Mike Ellis, president and CEO, highlighted several innovations that are improving Kroger’s connection with customers and growing market share. Specifically, he mentioned corporate brands.

“In corporate brands, a strategic differentiator for Kroger’s corporate brand portfolio is our multi-tier offering,” Ellis says. “It allows us to offer the right price points and product experiences for everyone. In the first quarter we introduced new branding and packaging for our value products — the ‘good’ tier of our ‘good, better, best’ program. The new design calls out to customers with attractive uplifting packaging and the response, so far, has been really terrific.”

Kroger’s Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic brands are billed as “affordable and delicious foods that represent the joy of eating closer to the way nature intended.” Products including cereal, butter and snack chips feature clean, simple packaging and easy-to-understand ingredient statements that help shoppers take the chore out of selecting organic, “free from” and some natural foods.

Other retailers are following the same path. The United Family has announced all United Supermarkets, Market Street, Amigos and United Express locations will now offer Essential Everyday store brands, providing guests an expanded product selection, lower prices and additional promotions. The new brands include organic goods under the Wild Harvest brand. 100% natural, organic and environmentally-friendly products at prices you can afford. The entire Wild Harvest line is minimally processed and free of additives, artificial colors and ingredients. 

According to a new national survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center released in June, 59 percent of consumers check to see if the products they are buying are “natural,” despite there being no federal or third-party verified label for this term. Moreover, while a majority of people think that the “natural” label actually carries specific benefits, an even greater percentage of consumers think it should.

Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group, offers details of the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s new report, “Engaging the Evolving Shopper: Serving the New American Appetite,” which reveals bakery, deli and cheese shoppers are more specific these days about what types of ingredients they want to avoid. “100 percent natural is more of an idea that consumers have,” she explains, “but it’s better to avoid using 100 percent natural as a marketing message.”

Rather, bakery, deli and cheese shoppers are striving to avoid specific attributes, and these are the messages to hone in on.

Top attributes that consumers are seeking:

In the bakery: No high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). No artificial ingredients. No artificial preservatives.

In the cheese shop:  No artificial ingredients. No artificial preservatives. All natural.

In the deli meat department: No artificial ingredients. No artificial preservatives. Minimally processed.

New from Corbion Caravan, the Pristine line of branded bases, mixes and functional ingredients brings fresh ideas for developing baked solutions to meet consumer desires for clean products. Pristine helps reduce the number of ingredients needed to create even the most unique offerings, helping meet consumer preferences for simpler, natural products free of unwanted additives.

“We know from the International Food Information Council Foundation 2014 Food & Health survey that 65% of consumers are reading the nutrition facts panel and 52% are reading the ingredients legend, and purchase decisions are being made based upon what is or is not in a product,” says Deborah Hodgson, director of national accounts, Retail ISB & Food Service, for Corbion Caravan. “Consumers are looking for items that contain ingredients they can read and understand in addition to being good for them and great tasting. As a result, we are seeing the continued shift from white to whole wheat/grain breads along with more organic/natural breads and, of course, gluten-free. In addition, we are also seeing a segment of the population being interested in fresh from the oven breads, resulting in more par-baked or bake at home products. However, on the flip side, there is a convergence of health and wellness and foodie lifestyles where consumers are still looking for ways to treat themselves, so we are seeing the increase in breads containing olives, cheese, honey and fruits, for example.”

Hodgson adds that there are a number of factors impacting consumer decisions today and they are not necessarily bakery specific. “Based upon the IFIC, 2014 Food & Health survey we know consumers are trying to limit their intake of sugars, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats and preservatives, to name a few. Recent activity in the bakery includes products offering better-for-you claims such as gluten-free, simple/minimally processed, all natural, no preservatives and artisan products.”
Experimentation is key for instore bakeries to meet this growing demand. “From a Corbion proprietary consumer research study we know consumers want to see more new product activity in the bakery,” Hodgson says. “Consumers want the excitement of trying something new and love to have the opportunity to taste a product before purchasing.  Customers benefit by working with Corbion — from the trends shared by our consumer insights team regarding what consumers want —to how we identify solutions to help meet those demands.”

The Consumer Reports survey also revealed that more than 8 out of 10 consumers believe that packaged foods carrying the “natural” label should come from food that contains ingredients grown without pesticides (86%), do not include artificial ingredients (87%), and do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (85%), reinforcing a wide gap between consumer reality and consumer expectations.

“Our findings show consumers expect much more from natural food labels and that there is a strong consumer mandate for better food production practices in general and food label standards that meet a higher bar,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director for Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.