Supermarket shoppers have always been cost conscious, but they still want clean, well-organized stores with high-quality refrigerated products. And they are willing to venture beyond their primary neighborhood store to one of those big warehouse clubs if such locales meet those needs.

Those are a few of the factors that could affect refrigeration contractors based on the annual study titled Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes and the Supermarket 2003, published by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

The document, released in spring to coincide with the FMI Expo in Chicago, is primarily for store owners and managers. But many aspects directly relate to the contractors and technicians responsible for mechanical refrigeration equipment. The current survey was conducted in January of 2003.

Among some of the generalized findings is that more and more customers are willing to venture from their neighborhood (or primary) supermarket to warehouse clubs to save money. The report noted that the percentage of food dollars spent at the primary store declined to 82 percent from 89 percent the previous year. Overall, about 18 percent of supermarket shoppers are now using sources beyond a traditional supermarket for food purchases, a number that has been slowly increasing over the years.

At the same time, satisfaction with the primary store remained high at 8.1 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “excellent.”

Getting Specific

When asked for factors considered in choosing a store, those surveyed rated clean, neat stores as most important, followed by high-quality fruits and vegetables in second place and price in third. Here the refrigeration contractor has a direct impact, as the cleanliness of a store includes the aesthetic appearance of the freezers and coolers, and proper refrigeration is essential to the quality of some fruits and vegetables.

“Supermarkets remain the dominant outlet for food products including breakfast cereal, natural/organic food, meat/poultry, and frozen food,” said the report.

Food safety has also been a high priority for supermarkets. Recent years have seen increased attention on international terrorism and TV news magazines going undercover in some supermarkets. Such developments are making shoppers more concerned about the food safety issue. The survey reported that 79 percent of respondents had confidence that the food in the supermarket was completely or mostly safe, down from 82 percent the year before.

According to the report, “Although the risk associated with specific food items was not asked in the 2003 survey, last year’s survey results suggest that ground meat is at the top of the list of foods these consumers are avoiding [62 percent of the shoppers in the 2002 survey].”

Those surveyed rated ground meat a serious or somewhat serious health risk. “Other meat, poultry, and seafood products also were considered a health risk by about half of all shoppers.”

Those involved in transport refrigeration also came under scrutiny in the report. Shoppers were asked about meats that are packaged at a central location then shipped to neighborhood stores. “It appears that many shoppers do not believe such meat is as good in quality as that which is packaged in the store,” stated the report. The report suggests that transporters will need to join with store owners to ease customer concerns.

FMI’s report is available to its members and nonmembers. For more information, visit

Publication date: 09/01/2003