SA consumers’ food shopping habits have changed, but have marketers noticed?

December remains the biggest, most important month for SA retailers, as consumers shop for gifts, their annual holiday and Fesitve Season celebrations. Food and grocery shopping is a critical part of this spending – but are retailers maximising the opportunities around this key consumer behaviour?

Jenni-Ruth Coggin

The answer is, probably not, asserts Jenni-Ruth Coggin, CEO of BMi Research.

Between August and September 2023, BMi Research, in collaboration with Spark Media, researched 900 million main meals as eaten by South Africans in a month. It conducted daily interviews around the main meal that respondents had eaten the day before, as well as any food and grocery shopping done the previous day.

The daily quota sample represented economically active South Africans who shopped for groceries for the home.

“The survey revealed fascinating insights into how consumers are shopping, planning their shop, and enjoying the meals made with the groceries bought.” says Coggin.

“For instance, 66% of all main meals are eaten in a social environment, with 25% of respondents eating together for social occasions. Up to 52% of the grocery shoppers who walk into a retail store on an average day look for inspiration before shopping. If those shoppers are cooking for a special occasion (around 33% of them), then 80% look for inspiration before shopping. As many as 60% of consumers follow a recipe when cooking for a special occasion.

“These insights tell us that a quarter of all main meals being cooked are for special occasions – a percentage that will climb rapidly during December. Then, for these special occasion meals, consumers are looking for inspiration and recipes. This represents two important touch points to connect with consumers and add value to their brand interactions.”

Very considered spending

In addition, Spark Media’s own research shows that prior to the pandemic, South Africans were already a nation of price-sensitive, promotion seekers. As the cost of living in SA continues to spiral upwards, so consumers are planning their purchases more carefully and researching the best deals, now more than ever.

South Africans use their local newspaper to plan their purchases and research discount buys. A massive 91% of consumers plan their shopping a day or two before they shop, 75% read their local newspaper on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday before they shop, and 74% mostly do their shopping over the weekend.

“From this we can deduce consumers are planning their special occasion meals and are actively looking for specials in their local papers. As many as 31% of shopper go to the store with a pre-planned shopping list,” says Coggin.

“Brands have an opportunity to ensure they are on that list by presenting their products and their offers in a compelling way that taps into this desire for special occasion and social meals.

“Combining this trend with consumers’ affordability needs and the timing of the holiday season provides an opportunity for brands to offer cost-effective festive meal ideas or meal alternatives that are suitable to for the whole family.”

She adds that the special occasion meal also has the potential to bring joy in these tough times: “Marketing should reflect this with adverts that speak to families coming together, the enjoyment of social meals, and the broader acceptance of meals made with affordable ingredients that still deliver the same satisfying results.

“It’s imperative that brand and retail marketers don’t just default to price as the differentiator all the time. The occasion – the reason consumers are in the store to begin with – is equally important. In fact, this should drive advertising efforts at this time of year, when marketers have a chance to forge a meaningful connection with consumers when it matters most.”

About BMi Research: A research house specialising in consumer, retail, FMCG, educational and industrial research and is a wholly owned subsidiary of the SA-based Cognition Holdings, a JSE-listed company. BMi Research says it will publicise more findings from this survey in 2024.