ROCKVILLE, MD. — The 42 million food shoppers with a household income of $150,000 or more exercise an outsized influence on the food industry, according to a new report by Packaged Facts.

The belief that natural and organic practices produce better food has continued to germinate in the minds of this key demographic, resulting in an enduring trend that has spread to virtually every corner of the food and beverage industry. Data collected by Packaged Facts highlighted the differences between the in-store choices of affluent and other food shoppers, concluding that the future of grocery retail is better aligned to meet the expectations of higher-earning households than other consumer segments.

According to Packaged Facts, affluent food shoppers increasingly have moved to organic and natural foods. They were more prone than other food shoppers to shy away from conventional shelf-stable packaged goods and more likely to spend money buying and experiencing higher-margin store perimeter products and services. In addition, they more frequently avoided foods with artificial ingredients.

"Affluent food shoppers are drawn to the food culture and shopping experience offered by stores in the natural channel," said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. "They are much more likely than their non-affluent counterparts to shop at either Whole Foods or Trader Joe's or at independent natural food stores, community co-ops, farmers markets or specialty and gourmet outlets."

Affluent shoppers had a much higher likelihood of buying fresh department products such as organic produce and value-added products such as hot rotisserie chicken or further prepared fresh seafood. This means they provide a disproportionate boost to grocery store profits today. The report predicted that affluent shoppers will be even more important in the future, as grocery stores continue to shrink the center store and invest in an expanded perimeter.

They were also twice as likely as their less-affluent counterparts to use online grocery delivery services, making them a vital part of the grocery industry’s fast-growing online component.

Packaged Facts advised that grocers improve their outreach to affluent consumers by reflecting the values of the natural channel such as fair trade, local sourcing, sustainability, humane animal treatment and clean labeling. This includes carrying brands that align with the mindset of affluent food shoppers, which often have a philanthropic image and characterize their products as “honest,” “authentic,” “trusted,” “real” and “safe.”

"Since affluent food shoppers are far more likely to buy organic fresh and frozen foods, stores need to provide a full range of options in this category," Mr. Sprinkle said.