Lower-calorie foods and beverages drove the bulk of sales growth for supermarket chains between 2009 and 2013, making up 59 percent of growth, compared to just 41 percent for their higher-calorie counterparts, according to a new report from the Hudson Institute.
Interestingly, those trend lines did not hold for foods and beverages that contribute the most calories to the diets of children and adolescents, items such as desserts, snacks, sugary drinks, and pizzas. During the study period, higher-calorie versions of these products made up more than 70 percent of sales and grew more than 12 percent, whereas lower-calorie foods and drinks saw growth of roughly 5 percent.
The overall shift in supermarket sales to lower-calorie products is largely consistent with recent changes in the restaurant and food and beverage industries, the report foundexcept that sales of lower-calorie items grew at an even faster rate for the latter two sectors, indicating that supermarkets could be taking better advantage of the public’s shift in food preferences.
“Customers are looking for lower-calorie choices wherever they are," said Hank Cardello, lead author of the report, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and director of the Institute’s Obesity Solutions Initiative. “The good news is, supermarkets’ growth is being driven by these products, but compared to other sectors they’re still leaving money on the table. There is a tremendous opportunity to drive even more sales by focusing more on lower-calorie options."
To produce the report, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Cardello and his team analyzed Nielsen Scantrack data from 2009 and 2013 for 202 individual food and beverage categories for the three largest supermarket retailers in the United States, including their 26 banner chains. The categories include a wide range of foods, such as cereal, pasta, fruits, vegetables, packaged meals, milk and snacks. The researchers used data on the average number of items on a store shelf, and, most important, the total sales in dollars for each category. Together the three retail ownership groups account for 45 percent of the U.S. supermarket industry.
Researchers then classified each product as either lower-calorie or higher-calorie based on criteria developed previously in conjunction with the Nutrition Coordinating Center at the University of Minnesota. For instance, cereals with 150 calories per serving or less, beverages with 50 calories or less, and skim and 1-percent milk would all qualify as lower-calorie items.
The new report also compared sales of stores in food desertsareas with limited access to healthy, affordable foodsto those not in food deserts. The team found lower-calorie sales were growing at a greater rate than higher-calorie sales in both areas. However, the share of total sales in food deserts from lower-calorie items was less than for stores not located in food desertsenough to equate to $500 million in forgone lower-calorie revenue for stores in food deserts.
The report also found the lower-calorie share of total sales for products made by private label companies trails that of branded products, but it is catching up. Closing the gap between private label and branded products could have a more than $600 million impact on total dollar sales of lower-calorie products.