What Are Shoppers Buying? Love, Nostalgia And Ease


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The average consumer will spend $394 per month on groceries in 2023, an increase of $22 from 2022 – and that’s just for one person. Expand that cart to a family of four, and the increase approaches nearly $100, to north of $1,000 total spending per month.

This boost might be awesome for food retailers, but not necessarily for the brands they carry. This is because the number of items in that cart could well be shrinking.

Shoppers, many of whom are making close to last year’s wages, are trying to stick to last year’s budgets, and making hard choices about what they will continue to buy. In some carts, house brand cereal might replace Raisin Bran. But in others, bottled water is eliminated altogether.

What They Want: Ring Dings, Rotisserie, Ramen And More

Yet while more consumers are shopping more intentionally, there are some categories for which they will make room in the cart. Based on researched trends in the grocery industry, here are nine.

  1. Vitamins and supplements – Wellness is expanding into every category from beverages to shampoo, so it’s predictable that vitamin and supplement sales are climbing. In 2023, the category is projected to reach $57.5 billion One key driver: Online vitamin subscription services, such as Vous Vitamins, that customize orders to consumer needs. Online, the vitamin and supplement market is expected to climb by 6% in 2023, to $30.7 billion, IBIS World reports.
  2. Retro foods – People tend to embrace products that remind them of simpler times, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see Count Chocula, Dunkaroos and Ring Dings back on store shelves, as Eat This, Not That! reports. Consumers are reliving their childhoods and welcoming these nostalgic treats into the mainstream. This explains why McDonald’s adult Happy Meals, briskly sold out October 2022. Now, to quote George Carlin, “Where the h•• are the Mallomars?”
  3. Rotisserie chicken – In 2022, membership club Costco sold nearly 117 million rotisserie chickens, up by 11 million from 2021, All Recipes reports. The easy-peasy meal has been a significant contributor to sales, and a bellwether, for years, thanks to its value. Company executives have said its consistent price of $4.99 is “an investment in low prices to drive membership.” But even at slightly higher prices elsewhere, the rotisserie chickens are a good deal for families.
  4. Non-alcoholic beverages – Level-headed Americans spent $395 million on non-alcoholic drinks from August 2021 to August 2022, Nielsen IQ reports. That represents a staggering 20.6% in growth. In that 2021-2022 period, 72 new non-alcoholic drink options were brought to market: 37 beers, 17 wines and 18 spirits. Nielsen reports the sales tend to peak near the Fourth of July and end-of-year holidays, for those retailers now sizing up their summer orders.
  5. Fancy pet foods – Spending on premium dog food, which includes subcategories like frozen-raw meals, has risen by 31% per unit from 2019 to 2022, Supermarket News reported. Nearly % of those buyers were new to the category. Industry trackers report sales of specialty premium cat foods, despite higher prices, also are climbing. Sales of refrigerated and frozen cat foods, for example, rose by 5% from August 2021 to August 2022, according to market research firm IRI.
  6. Stuff for $1 – Dollar stores are the fastest-growing food retailers, according to The American Journal of Public Health. This makes sense: Escalating prices make it nearly impossible to predict the food bill, so consumers shop stores with prices they know. For example, one in five consumers get their groceries at stores like Dollar Tree, CNBC This might explain why some supermarkets are posting “10 for $10” promotions for easy-grab goods, like fortified water.
  7. Brown hair color – Being a blonde can be expensive; it can cost hundreds of dollars more a year to keep than brown hair, Business Insider reports. This is because lighter hair requires more touch ups, to cover the darker roots. Further, during the pandemic, many people stopped coloring their hair altogether as they avoided their stylists. Many liked their new, “recession brunette” looks and stuck with them, relying on boxed dye from the store for touch ups.
  8. Cups of noodles. Ramen has graduated from college dorm rooms to family kitchens (and trendy restaurants). Nissin, a leading seller of ramen, in April posted a 41% gain in fourth quarter sales, Food Dive reported. Ramen demand gained steam during the pandemic (global sales reached $44.1 billion in 2021), which raises a consideration: Is it time to release ethnic foods from their dedicated aisles and incorporate them throughout the store, to generate unplanned purchases?
  9. Private label anythingNearly 75% of consumers plan to continue buying private-label goods after the economy improves, according to a report in Grocery Dive. Just 9% plan to drop private labels at that time. Higher prices clearly influence these choices, but so does growing trust in private-label quality. After the pandemic, 58% of food retailers and manufacturers told the Food Industry Association they planned to add new private-label offerings based on innovation.

What’s Goes In The Cart Doesn’t Always Stay In the Cart

There are other “hot” categories that food retailers are making room for, including plant-based pastas and meat-free proteins. These categories come with risk, however, due to their higher price points and competition from lower-cost alternatives (tofu or a can of black beans can replace premium veggie burgers, for example).

The appeal of the above products is they have added value. Some, such as premium pet foods and retro brands, come with emotional significance. Others, including ramen and brown hair dye, just get the job done for less money.

In a cart carrying fewer items, those small accomplishments carry a high price.


This article originally appeared in Forbes.



Actually, it is 22.5%, not 23.5%.

Jenn McMillen
Incendio Founder Jenn McMillen has been building and sharing expertise in the retail industry for 20+ years. Her expertise includes customer relationship management, shopper experience, retail marketing, loyalty programs and data analytics. She's a retail contributor for Forbes.


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