This week, Waitrose’s annual Food and Drink Report (which includes all supermarkets) made headlines when the supermarket chain predicted it will have to do away with trolleys altogether due to significant changes in the food shopping habits of UK customers. While just a few years ago, a new Waitrose shop would have opened with 200 big trolleys, today that number is looking more like 70.
Part of the reason for the shift is that shoppers control their food budgets in a bid to save money during a period of economic uncertainty, but there is also a need for greater fluidity in shoppers’ lives.
An IGD industry report predicts that by 2022, shopping in convenience stores will have increased by 18% and the online food retail market will have grown by 54%. Conventional supermarket shopping on the other hand, while still accounting for around 42% of the total food retail market, will only have gone up 6%, with competition from convenience shop, discounters and online stores increasing.
Of course, the much-needed flexibility and fluidity that customers expect of food retailers is also present in their food preferences, which are becoming increasingly fragmented and individualised. 1 in 3 of Britons already describe themselves as ‘part-time vegetarians’ and an increasing number of eaters are squeezing a fourth meal into their day to adapt their diet to their busy lifestyle.
It’s no wonder that an increasing number of consumers are opting for what Waitrose calls ‘as and when’ shopping. The convergence of multiple long-term trends, including the increasing importance of leisure in our lives and the evolution of what a few years ago we termed ‘the deregulation of life’ means we no longer have to distinguish between conventional and ‘fluid’ shopping, which could mean anything from multi-channel shopping to customers using apps to generate custom meal ideas based on what’s on the Reduced shelf, to VR-enhanced experiences.
With an increasing number of us either working remotely, working longer hours or as living in smaller houses we could soon find ourselves doing away with the concept of ‘regular’ eating altogether.
Similarly, with Amazon taking over Whole Foods and promising to slash prices in addition to launching its own ‘Amazon Fresh’ and ‘Amazon Pantry’ services which can deliver food to a customer’s house within as little as 6 hours, conventional players may need to make drastic changes to their business model to adapt to rapidly shifting customer needs and expectations.
According to McKinsey research, less than 1 in 5 shoppers enjoy doing their weekly shop, and with UK consumers being less dominated by routine and finding more and more time for leisure in our lives, is it possible that we may need to think about combining different elements such as voice searching or a shelf for ‘dinner for tonight’ style suggestions to create a more immersive experience where shopping is only one element of a multi-activity hub.
So what’s the future of food retail? An augmented reality enhanced supermarket has already opened in Milan, with ‘augmented labels’ showing content such as allergen and nutritional information whenever a customer reaches for a product. Similarly, tech research firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, 1 in 5 global brands will be using AR for shopping in some capacity, effectively helping to bridge the gap between physical and digital in a way that will make the current online-offline boundary seem alien to Gen Z and Gen A shoppers a few decades from now.