Grocery shoppers are facing a strange dichotomy in stores these days. They hear on the news that prices are falling across multiple retail sectors, but they don’t see that reflected on their grocery bills. Many are looking at the bigger numbers at the bottom of receipts and wondering “what gives?”
The truth is, prices for consumer goods and services are dropping across multiple sectors, but that trend does not include some goods sold at grocery stores. With more people cooking and eating at home thanks to stay-at-home or safe-at-home orders, demand for food products has fallen dramatically. Producers are trying to shift to other markets, but it takes time to get supply chains moving in a different direction. COVID-19 related supply chain disruption is a serious issue that is influencing grocery prices across the country.
This challenge was only compounded by the fact that some meatpacking plants have been seriously impacted by coronavirus infections among employees. With plants producing less meat for grocery retailers, the prospect of meat shortages loomed, leading to price increases.
On top of all of this, panic-buying has led some stores to raise prices on certain products in order to reduce demand, so that they have enough in stock for all customers. Some suppliers are also raising prices, and these costs are being passed on to consumers.
Prices for staple items such as dairy products and breakfast cereal are up, as is the cost of bread, juice, coffee, soup, chicken, and pork. Even baby food and fresh fruit prices are up.
While there are a few items that have managed to stay about the same or even see prices fall, for the most part, consumers aren’t really paying as much attention to the cost of items as they are whether or not the items are on the shelves to begin with. Despite rising costs on many staple food items, consumers are noticing empty spots on shelves a lot more than a slight increase in the price of bread and other sundries.
This brings the issue back around to those supply chain issues. Shoppers only have so much tolerance for not getting things they are used to finding easily, and most are not interested in going to multiple stores for groceries they had been able to buy in a single trip.
In response to these frustrations, and in order to take a proactive market position on any potential added frustration from increased prices, grocery brands need to be aggressive and empathetic in their consumer-facing messaging. Positive, connective PR that expresses gratitude for customers as well as a clear “we’re in this together” message helps consumers understand that this situation is frustrating for everyone, and the retailer is doing all they can to mitigate that frustration for the shopper.
These two dynamics – appreciation and understanding – need to be a single thread running through all current grocery retail messaging. Consumers need to know, whether they are facing an empty shelf or higher prices or both, that the retailer understands their frustration and genuinely appreciates the continued support.