Grocer's Guide: 7 Strategies to Minimize the Impact of Inflation on Customers

Neha Ghai
November 10, 2023

At a Glance

  • Rising food prices due to global factors pose a challenge for grocers in maintaining affordability.
  • Grocers are adapting with strategies such as category optimization, leveraging omnichannel fulfillment, and enhancing supply chain visibility.
  • 73% shoppers prefer private label brands in search of budget-friendly options and enticing deals.
  • 77% grocers prioritize value with exclusive discounts
  • 37% of shoppers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products
  • 63% of shoppers actively seek deals

Inflation, a resurgent economic phenomenon, has cast a looming shadow over the grocery retail landscape. With food prices surging due to a multitude of global factors, grocers are facing a formidable challenge – how to maintain affordability while enhancing customer satisfaction. According to the latest consumer price index (CPI) report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices saw a significant 3.7% increase between September 2022 and September 2023. This surge in prices comes at a time when consumers are showing restraint in their spending, as revealed by a report from Grocery Doppio titled the "State of Digital Grocery Performance Scorecard." 18% of consumers plan to increase their overall spending on groceries and food for the rest of the year.This scenario holds significant implications for grocers, as it implies that consumers are increasingly seeking value, and higher operating costs necessitate that grocers either reduce their margins or hold them steady to remain competitive. 

Moreover, grocers need to adapt to shifting customer preferences in this evolving landscape. 

The focus of this article is to understand the impact of inflation on grocers and align with evolving consumer behaviors. We will delve deeper into how these challenges affect grocers and explore strategies to mitigate them.

Evolving Grocery Landscape in the Face of Inflation

The grocery retail landscape is undergoing a digital transformation, with a notable 12.9% of sales taking place online in Q3 2023, totaling $30.4 billion. This shift towards digital shopping emphasizes the need for grocers to invest in technology to meet the demands of omnichannel shoppers.

However, the rise in inflation is posing challenges for grocers. It has led to a significant erosion of brand loyalty, with 73% of shoppers opting for private label brands in search of budget-friendly options and enticing deals. Despite the economic pressures caused by inflation, consumers are showing resilience. In July 2023, 59% of consumers have no plans to reduce their grocery spending, while 18% intend to increase their expenditure on groceries and food. This evolving consumer behavior presents both opportunities and challenges for grocers as they navigate the complex landscape of rising prices and changing preferences.

Grocers as Partners in Minimizing Inflation Impact

Grocers are uniquely positioned to navigate the challenges posed by inflation and leverage them into opportunities in today's complex economic landscape. To effectively minimize the impact of rising prices and meet evolving consumer preferences, grocers can employ several key strategies. As per Grocery Doppio’s State of Digital Grocery Performance Scorecard Shopper Sentiment Update grocers use multiple levers to reduce the inflationary pinch which are mentioned below

Balancing Category Brand Mix -  Grocers are meticulously revisiting their product categories, carefully blending the mix of private and national brands to cope with inflationary pressures. They adapt their product assortments to align with consumer preferences, prioritizing value. 77% of grocers implement member-exclusive pricing discounts to emphasize their commitment to providing value across a range of offerings while mitigating the impact of inflation. They also introduce new categories based on consumer demands and loyalty rewards to further cater to their customer base. Grocery Doppio's research suggests that 17% of shoppers express a willingness to pay a premium for their preferred national brands, indicating the presence of a loyal shopper segment that values the right mix of private and national brands. According to our report, the average number of national brands a shopper refuses to compromise on stands at 4-5, reaffirming the significance of maintaining a balanced assortment of private and national brands. As grocers strive to navigate the challenges of inflation, 57% are intensifying their promotion of private brands, a strategic move aimed at alleviating the impact of inflationary pressures while meeting consumer expectations.

Omnichannel Fulfillment  - Leveraging the evolving grocery landscape, grocers can adopt an omnichannel fulfillment strategy to strategically navigate the changing consumer behaviors driven by inflation. With nearly 70% of sales taking place through digital channels in May and sustained digital growth, illustrated by a substantial $10 billion in digital sales recorded in August 2023, it becomes evident that diversifying product offerings across both physical and online platforms is a key tactic. This shift aligns with an emerging trend where 67% of shoppers consider restaurant takeout meals due to rising grocery prices. As grocers embrace omnichannel fulfillment, they position themselves to capture a broader customer base, adapt to evolving consumer preferences, and address the challenges presented by inflation, thereby enhancing customer satisfaction and maintaining a competitive edge.

Supply chain Visibility - Retailers are strategically overhauling their supply chain operations to secure a competitive edge. They can employ innovative approaches such as diverting shipments through less congested ports and cost-effective ocean routes. In the upcoming year, 74% of grocers plan to experiment with AI use cases, with a particular focus on optimizing the picking process, reserving 8.1% of their budget for this purpose reported by Grocery Doppio State of Digital Grocery Performance Scorecard Q3 2023. Grocers can work out the distribution centers to ensure their positioning, taking into account labor availability and cost-efficiency, all while minimizing expenses associated with the final mile. The importance of AI in the grocery industry is, with 82% of grocers recognizing its necessity to stay competitive, despite only 9% currently having the analytical talent required to meet future needs. Our Q3 2023 report highlights grocers' willingness to allocate 11.2% of their budgets to labor optimization through AI integration. Third-party logistics and supply-chain-as-a-service providers are key allies in eliminating asset-intensive operations and reducing distribution overhead. 

Rethinking Store Operations - To address the effects of labor cost inflation, grocers should re-evaluate in-store processes. They can explore opportunities to reset the store operating model by deploying technology and analytics, optimizing labor allocation and scheduling, and adopting a holistic approach to cost management.

Consumer Appetite and Transparency - Grocers can build trust and transparency by providing clear and concise information about their products and pricing as per Grocery Doppio’s State of Digital Grocery Performance Scorecard Jan 2023. Sustainability-related product information is of particular interest to consumers, with 73% favoring such details on digital channels. This transparency can be achieved through in-store signage, online resources, product packaging and listings, and social media. Additionally, 37% of shoppers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, highlighting the value of clear communication in this regard.

Differentiating Customer Experience - Technology serves as a catalyst for optimizing operations and elevating the customer experience within the fiercely competitive grocery market. By making strategic technological investments, grocers position themselves as industry leaders, all without compromising their brand identity or market presence. The implementation of artificial intelligence is fast becoming an imperative, aimed at reducing operational costs while enhancing profit margins. According to "The Times They Are A-Changing: Impact of AI in Grocery" report, an impressive 69% of grocery sales are digitally influenced, while 73% of grocery executives foresee AI integration into their software within two years. The growing significance of AI is further evidenced by 13% of grocers allocating non-budgeted funds for AI exploration in 2023, with a notable 78% focusing on AI as a means to enhance the customer experience. In a digital disruption-driven landscape, differentiation is the key to success, and grocers' ability to distinguish themselves through exceptional customer experiences will be their paramount advantage.

Improving Pricing Strategy - In the dynamic landscape shaped by rising inflation, grocery brands must place even greater emphasis on their pricing and promotional strategies as consumer behaviors evolve. 63% of shoppers actively seek deals while they shop, as highlighted in Grocery Doppio's State of Digital Grocery Performance Scorecard for April 2023. Failing to tailor pricing strategies toward value-conscious consumers could result in the loss of customers who are diligently managing their budgets. 83% of grocers are proactively leveraging pricing as a means of optimization to counter the impacts of inflation. The optimization of pricing, striking a delicate balance between preserving margins and fulfilling consumer demands, takes center stage in responding to the evolving landscape driven by changes in consumer behavior due to inflation.

Future of Grocery Landscape 

In conclusion, inflation's resurgence presents a significant challenge for grocers. With food prices rising and consumers seeking value, grocers must adapt to this changing landscape. To navigate the evolving grocery market, grocers can employ strategies such as category optimization, transparent supply chains, dynamic pricing, streamlined store operations, enhanced transparency, product diversification, improved customer experiences, and refined pricing strategies.

By embracing these approaches, grocers can not only mitigate the impact of inflation but also position themselves as agile, customer-centric providers in an increasingly digital and value-focused grocery retail world. In this era of economic uncertainty, grocers have the opportunity to transform challenges into opportunities, creating an environment where both consumers and retailers can thrive.