SHOPPER REPORT NOVEMBER 2001

Easier Is Still Better

Feeling Safe

Food Shopping

Making A Living

Clothes That Fit

Safer Investments

Easier Check Out

Thoughts About Buying

Comfort From Campbell Soup?


EASIER IS STILL BETTER
It's comforting to know that some things haven't changed since the world changed around us. Consumers are still consumers. American consumers would still like faster checkouts, better housework helpers, and easier ways of fixing dinner. Japanese consumers are flocking to new-technology washing machines that eliminate the need for detergent. The bottom line is that consumers around the world are continuing to seek and buy better mousetraps. Marketers that respond to their wishes could find at least 25 percent of the consumers beating a path to their door.

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Feeling Safe: The most widespread of consumers' wishes right now is for easier ways to feel safe. Many have not yet adapted to feeling less than safe, or to the effort involved in overcoming safety anxieties. Even in the days before anthrax cases dominated the headlines, those who expressed strong wishes to feel safe outnumbered those with strong feelings about
anything else on our list. But while 47 percent expressed strong interest in feeling safe, only 15 percent expressed moderate interest- suggesting that some are far more anxious than others. Some will appreciate soothing words and gestures. Some are loading up on information they find credible, and others are doing their best to escape from the media bombardment. In the retail marketplace, anything that is irradiated or germ-free has added value right now. Vending machines that irradiate food, mail, or whatever consumers are worried abut could be as common as coin counters and can recyclers in months or years to come. In the meantime, store operators should be double-checking their sanitation practices and rethinking their salad bars, their buying standards, and their visible as well as invisible security measures.

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Easier Food Shopping: Getting repair work done at home is generally known to be time consuming, difficult, frustrating, and expensive. In two income and/or single parent households, it's likely to be especially challenging and exasperating. It's not surprising that many consumers would like to find ways that make it easier. What is surprising to us is that JUST AS MANY consumers would like to find ways (or stores!) that make food shopping easier.

On-line shopping is one option. An excellent consumer assessment of Publix Online appeared in the 9/30/01 South Florida Sun-Sentinel under the Christine Winter byline. Here's a nutshell summary of what she said:

  • Grocery shopping is hard because she has to do it when she is tired (after work) or has other things to do (weekends).
  • It's harder to recall what you need from computer menus and submenus than when you cruise aisles.
  • It's harder to judge quantities from a picture. "Are those bottles of water I like a half liter, a liter, 8.5 ounces, etc."
  • You have to pay close attention to the details shown on the screen or you won't get the size or cut that you want.

In spite of these problems, she'll use the service again - especially when there's a no-charge-for-delivery promotion going on.

Based on what we continuously hear from shoppers, there's more than fatigue and time scarcity that makes grocery shopping a chore. After developing programs and procedures to deal with future threats of bio-terrorism, food marketers should be brainstorming in-store as well as on-line approaches to easier shopping for the 21st Century. We suggest that they look at both form and content of their stores, displays, aisles, signs, merchandising, and their total communications package.

Other implications of the Easier Is Better data:
Earning A Living: With more than half of our respondents saying that earning a living is tough these days, food marketers in general and food retailers in particular need to get back to the business of helping consumers who need to stretch their food dollars. With fewer consumers young knowing how to cook well and most accustomed to added value meal components, coming up with real solutions isn't as easy as it used to be. With many older consumers feeling the pinch of reduced earnings, stores that don't have senior-part-timer recruiting programs ought to think about starting them.

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Safer Investments: With forty percent of our respondents wishing for easier ways to invest safely, and so many supermarkets incorporating bank branches, savings bonds sound like a timely offer and a possibly great promotion.

Easy-Fit Clothing: It's a weird juxtaposition of numbers, but in aggregate, even more of our mostly female consumers wish it was easier to find clothes that fit than wish it was easier to feel safe. Readers who are old enough to remember "muumuus" know that they were a popular alternative to finding clothes that fit. "Muumuus" are or were tent dresses that hid a multitude of flesh and other sins and could be worn over nothing or over multiple layers. Envision racks or kiosks of Large, Larger, and Grande sized "Muumuus" in a global array of multi-cultural patterns in supermarkets as well as mass-markets and bazaars.

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Easier Checkout: Scanning was going to make checkout easier and indeed it has. But it hasn't made it easy enough, since more than half the shoppers who responded to our survey still wish that it was easier than it is now. Self-checkout is only part of the answer.

Easier Bill Paying: Neither on-line nor telephone bill paying have made bill paying easy enough to satisfy most of our respondents. The fact that so many consumers are charging so much more means that they are writing fewer checks for bill paying. The reasons that bill paying is hard have more to do with income-to-outgo ratios than the act of writing and mailing checks and balancing checkbooks.

Easier Bathroom Cleaning: Weren't soaps where supermarkets really began? Soaps for hands, soaps for faces, soaps for laundry, soaps for babies, soaps for beauty, soaps for baths, soaps for tough jobs. Then came detergents, and there were more detergent brands and classes than soaps. (The Japanese washing machine that uses no detergent at all seems to bring this full circle.) Today, there are almost as many products positioned for or dedicated to cleaning bathrooms as there are for cleaning hands or clothes. Besides the general purpose bathroom cleaners like Ajax for harder jobs, Bon Ami for tender surfaces, Clorox because bleach works, and Comet because it really cleans, there are special bathroom products like Dow which promises easier cleaning, Lysol which disinfects, Soft Scrub for versatility, Sun and Earth for the environment, and Tilex because it does what it says it will. And with all of these solutions, more than half of our respondents will still be receptive to anything else that comes along to make bathroom cleaning easier.

Easier Dinner Fixing: It's even more amazing that in the 21st century, more than half of the shoppers we surveyed are still looking for easier ways to fix dinner. After all, this is a full century since Campbell's Soup, a half century since Chef Boyardee and Hamburger Helper, and a quarter century since microwaves and Lean Cuisine. How hard can fixing dinner be?

Well, some consumers might stovetop or zap some Chunky but few "fix" Campbell's Soup for dinner (see Campbell Comfort below.) Chef Boyardee is now for kids. Hamburger Helper (or tuna or turkey or buffalo helper) is kind of boring and still requires messy cooking. Frozen and take-out foods don't really count as fixing at all. So maybe what consumers are telling us is that they do want to fix dinner, or feel like they are fixing dinner, but they'd like to do it without mess and without having to think about it very much. Which sounds pretty much like what Lipton's ______ and Green Giant's Create A Meal were all about.

EASIER IS BETTER - WIDE INTEREST
(All percents based on 210 respondents.)

Statements about when easier is better. Strongly
Agree
Total
Agree
Feeling safe 47% 62%
Finding clothes that fit 39% 66%
Earning a living 39% 54%
Checking out (of stores) 34% 56%
Paying bills 33% 57%
Bathroom cleaning 32% 57%
Fixing dinner 30% 52%
Maintaining freezer for easy finding and so nothing dries out 30% 51%
Maintaining refrigerator for easy finding so nothing spoils 29% 48%
Opening packages 29% 41%
Car maintenance 28% 57%
Using computers 28% 54%
Investing safely 28% 41%
Getting repair work done at home 27% 53%
Food shopping 27% 52%
Remembering names 27% 49%
Finding things in big stores 27% 46%
Taking pills 27% 39%
Maintaining pantry shelves for easy finding and so nothing spoils 25% 52%
Reclosing packages 25% 41%
Housework in general 22% 55%

House Versus Lawn: The female bias of our data shows its colors in the wide disparity between the 22-55% interest in making housework easier (the table above) versus the 9-27% interest in making lawn care easier (in the table below).

Losing keys stands out as a major niche problem that smart marketers ought to think about. Since many new-car keys are built-for computer recognition, future keys might help consumers stay connected as well as safe.

Diets in doldrums: Some readers may share our surprise at the low interest in easier ways of dieting - which may reflect the observed and widely-reported fact that many consumers have just given up and gotten fat - which is why they can't find clothes to fit.

Window washing miscellany: Caring for the elderly scores much higher among consumers over fifty, and cleaning pet accidents scores much higher among consumers with pets. We're going to do another survey on why the washing-windows numbers are so small. We can't help wondering if some of our consumers are keeping their blinds closed, living without windows, or sharing the magical window washing service that we've been searching for.

EASIER IS BETTER - NICHE INTEREST
(All percents based on 210 respondents.)

Statements about when easier is better. Strongly
Agree
Total
Agree
Not losing keys 24% 43%
Caring for elderly 24% 36 %
Cleaning pet accidents 23% 34 %
Exercise for keeping fit 20% 43%
Making new friends 20% 38%
Getting through voice mails 20% 28%
Carpet and rug cleaning 15% 36%
Dieting 15% 32%
Maintaining towel and sheet storage for easy finding 14% 38%
Removing spots 14% 31%
Washing windows 14% 30%
Getting home delivery 14% 27%
Ironing 13% 29%
Carrying packages 11% 23%
Finding mates 11% 16%
Garden care 10% 39%
Fixing lunches 10% 19%
Lawn care 9% 29%
Cutting firewood 6% 9%
Removing nail polish 4% 12%
Polishing silver 1% 6%

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THINKING AND BUYING
The responses to the statements below show that many consumers are thinking conflicting thoughts and are troubled by their own feelings. Two thirds of our respondents are concerned about their own prejudices. Many of the same consumers agree that it is a time to buy American and think globally. Twice as many think it's a good time to go out and celebrate being alive as think it's a good time to buy luxuries if you can afford them.

More home cooking and baking is in there, but not as strongly as we might expect, possibly because anxiety depletes some of the energy that is required - and as noted above, many are still hoping to find easier ways to fix dinner.

Statements about when easier is better. Strongly
Agree
Total
Agree
This is a time to fight our own prejudices. 49% 66%
This is a time to buy American. 47% 63%
This is a time to think globally. 35% 53%
This is a time to go out to celebrate being alive. 27% 44%
This is a time for more home cooking and baking. 24% 44%
This is a time for basics, when luxuries don't feel right or seem right. 18% 28%
This is a time when it's important to listen to people in the peace movement and other dissidents. 17% 29%
If you can afford them, there is more reason than ever to buy luxuries. 11% 28%

The following comment captured the mood of many: "At this time, I don't feel like buying anything but necessities. Luxury items are an impossibility right now anyway. Do I feel safe? Not anymore, hate that these "people" have made us feel like this. Don't want the children to grow up scared and always fearful. My mom is back remembering WWII!"

These holiday statements support the low-key holiday idea, which could benefit neighborhood stores and supermarkets since so many consumers seem reluctant to go out shopping.
.

Statements about holiday celebrations this year Strongly
Agree
Total
Agree
This is a year for patronizing small stores near home. 15% 39%
This is a year for more mail order and web shopping. 13% 21%
This is a year for buying everything at Wal-Mart. 6% 12%
This is a year for going back to department stores and specialty shops. 6% 12%
This is a year for going all out on gifts for the holidays 4% 6%

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Comfort From Campbell Soup?
Surveys from other researches have confirmed the starring role of soup in the comfort food galaxy. Campbell Soup has had many ups and downs in recent years and recently (but before T-day changed our world) announced that it planned a quality upgrade for soups, which are still its principal product. As soon as we heard their announcement, we shared it with 100 of our shoppers and asked them what, if anything, they thought the soups needed to fix. We asked the question on an open-ended basis, no checklists or options provided.

First, 91 of the 100 responded and they had a lot to say. Campbell Soup remains an American icon, and has added value because it is an icon and made in America to boot.

Overall, the responses suggest that lower soup prices would bring more comfort than more pieces of chicken. Consumers aren't as emotionally connected to Campbell as they probably were in decades past, but many really like (or remember) liking the traditional flavors of a lot of the soups.

Red and White (Condensed) Chicken Noodle and Chicken Rice are still used as emotional support for cold and flu victims, but only three of the 91 respondents to this question actually said they used them as comfort food. Progresso is widely associated with fuller-bodied soups and along with Chunky fills more of the comfort food role.

While 30 percent said that the quality of the condensed soups should be improved, more than 40 percent said that lowering prices or adding coupons was more important. Several noted that Campbell already has several different quality grades available and that preserving the traditional flavor of the condensed soups was more important than upgrading their quality. Many of these consumers think the condensed soups have become significantly overpriced.

  • I think they should probably LOWER the rather exorbitant prices they are charging for just a lot of water and some flavoring, then people would start buying more soup again. They have gotten too greedy. I used to buy a lot of Campbell's soups but since they started raising the prices so that you pay 90 cents or more for a can of Chicken Noodle soup or Mushroom soup I have stopped buying them.
  • I don't buy it for quality; I buy it as comfort food. I hope they don't change the taste too much in the search for improvements.
  • It is my perception that Campbell's already has a variety of qualities that I can purchase.
  • Haven't seen a decline in quality. Maybe our tastes are just getting more sophisticated. They are the soups we grew up with and I think most consumers would hate to see them change radically.
  • Think Campbell's canned soups are satisfactory for what they are and have a tried and true traditional taste.
  • I think most of the broth based condensed soups are a waste of money -but my 6 year old won't give up Chicken Noodle.
  • All I know is that most people I know have their classic soups in their pantries. I don't use them every week, but probably do so every month.
  • For the most part I think that Campbell's soups should be left alone. Their ready to eat soups like the Chunky line could maybe use a quality update to compete with the ever growing competition, but they need to leave their stand-by condensed soups alone!

On the other side, and the last word on this:

  • Campbell can certainly improve upon their soups. Although they were good in their day, they haven't kept up with the current trends of other soup manufacturers. They also haven't kept up very well with what the modern day consumer wants - which are more health conscious foods and more sophisticated tastes.

Admitting our own bias as former research suppliers to Campbell (back in the days when they still listened to what consumers wanted) is that big sales of Campbell Soups are all right for now but that down the road, some body-building is needed to change the flavored water perception without really changing the taste.

Well, some consumers might stovetop or zap some Chunky but few "fix" Campbell's Soup for dinner (see Campbell Comfort below.) Chef Boyardee is now for kids. Hamburger Helper (or tuna or turkey or buffalo helper) is kind of boring and still requires messy cooking. Frozen and take-out foods don't really count as fixing. What consumers are telling us is that they do want to fix yummy dinners without mess and without having to think about it very much. Most of the food companies have tried to respond to this need. Many have come close to meeting it. None have yet hit the current version of the "yummy button" that once-upon-a-time made Kraft Macaroni and Cheese a national staple.

© 2001The Consumer Network, Inc., PO Box 42753, Philadelphia, PA 19101. 215/235-2400. Email comments to ShopperReport@cs.com or to Mona@MonaDoyle.com.

 

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