Adweek recently published a short article about a study IBM commissioned Braun Research in Princeton to conduct. The findings: 72% of the 4,000 respondents were “more concerned with the quality of the food they’re buying than the price. Additionally, nine out of ten say that value as well as nutrition will be of equal or greater importance after the recession.”

Price still matters, of course.

  • 49% of respondents still noted they are “looking for the best deal.”

  • 35% have gone to another grocery store to save money.

  • 52% are purchasing fewer groceries in general.

According to Guy Blissett, at the IBM Institute for Business Value, “Consumers are reducing spending in certain store aisles, but maintaining or even spending in others as they put a lot more thought into the brands they purchase and the type of products they need.”

Still, as the article rightly points out, “quality trumps price for American shoppers.” Especially when it comes to food. Myriad recent food scares due to E.coli and salmonella outbreaks, melamine-laced baby formula, and unhealthy levels of lead and quality control issues—have made consumers more aware and more wary. Nutrition concerns have also upped the ante. Is it any wonder we’re all paying much more attention to the foods we’re purchasing these days?

Given all of this, it doesn’t surprise me that quality comes even before price as consumers assess their food purchases more closely than ever.

For food retailers, I think this recent survey signals a number of consumer expectations:

  • More diligence is needed. Pressure must be exerted from food retailers back to manufacturers and all across the supply chain to make sure all food sources are traceable and transparent.

  • Store brands can continue to keep and even advance the strong gains they have made as long as consumers perceive quality to accompany lower prices. In this way, consumers’ needs for value and quality will be met.

  • If a question or problem occurs with any food item, the product must be immediately withdrawn, and the retailer should make a statement and institute a recall about it as soon as it has been taken from the shelves.

  • Offering suggestions, recipes and even in-store cooking classes to show consumers how to stretch their food dollars may be ways for retailers to curry more loyalty among their customers. After all, these services may outweigh saving a few pennies on items from other grocery stores.

  • Offering “classes” by bringing in local nutritionists, dieticians or naturopaths might encourage customers to purchase the foods these health experts suggest. Forget endless food sampling.

  • Finding out which conveniences matter most to the customer might enable food retailers to make changes to assortments or offer services that may not cost much, but may lead to increased customer loyalty.

What kinds of product offerings or services would induce you to purchase in a particular grocery store?
What matters most to you: quality or price? To get what you want, have you frequented more food stores than you did in the past?
Has the recession forced you to shop differently? Has it made you rethink your food choices?

I’d love to hear from you.

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni