Affluent Food Shoppers: Money Isn’t Everything

Affluent Food Shoppers: Money Isn’t Everything

With their laser-like focus on healthy eating, sophisticated tastes, and ample financial resources, the 42 million food shoppers with a household income of $150,000 or more exercise an outsize influence on the food industry. The sheer volume of spending on food at home by affluent households—which is in excess of $100 billion—makes them an essential consumer segment for food manufacturers, marketers, distributors, and grocers.

But it’s not money alone that sets affluent food shoppers apart.  Besides spending a lot more money every year buying food to eat at home (74% more than their less affluent counterparts, according to the U.S. Government’s Consumer Expenditure Survey), the way affluent food shoppers spend money at the grocery store is also radically different.

A 2019 Packaged Facts report entitled Affluent Food Shoppers shows that affluent food shoppers are far more prone than other food shoppers to shy away from conventional shelf-stable packaged foods in the center of the store.   They are much more likely to spend time in the perimeter of the store buying products such as bulk foods, organic fresh fruits and vegetables, hot rotisserie chicken, further prepared fresh seafood, or cheese from a specialty/imported cheese department.

When affluent food shoppers do buy shelf-stable foods and beverages, they show a marked tendency to stay on the path of healthy eating.  For example, they are much more prone to buy organic versions of items such as breakfast cereal and pasta, to choose better-for-you snacks—trail mix wins out over pork rinds!—or to select low-calorie soft drinks like unflavored sparkling water rather than higher-calorie regular cola.

However, while food marketers and retailers need to recognize the differences between affluent food shoppers and their less affluent counterparts, they also need to understand that the affluent food shoppers are far from monolithic.  For example, Asians have a significant impact on the affluent food shopper segment.  They make up just 5% of the population of non-affluent food shoppers but 12% of affluent food shoppers.  Thus, the food preferences of Asian affluent food shoppers—who include Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Koreans, and a wide range of other national groupsare a significant factor in the food purchases of affluent food shoppers. 

There also is a noticeable more urban/less urban segmentation within the population of affluent food shoppers as well.  As might be expected, affluent food shoppers generally reflect the contrasting political and social environments of their surroundings.  For example, affluent food shoppers living in the 25 largest Nielsen Designated Marketing Areas (DMAs) are more likely to be liberal Democrats and those living outside these areas are more likely to be conservative Republicans.

Furthermore, there is evidence of a more urban/less urban split in the food choices of affluent food shoppers as well.  For example, compared to their counterparts in other parts of the country, affluent food shoppers living in the largest DMAs are more likely to buy organic fresh fruits and vegetables and are less likely to purchase canned or jarred vegetables and fruits.  Affluent food shoppers living outside the 25 largest DMAs are less likely to drink unflavored sparkling waters and are more likely to drink regular cola.

Expenditures by affluent food shoppers are a key driver of grocery store profitability because they display a higher tendency to gravitate toward high-margin, value-added products and services in the perimeter of the store.  Yet, when merchandising to this critically important demographic, grocers need to remember that one size does not necessarily fit all and that, in the end, money isn’t always everything.

-- By Dr. Robert Brown and Ruth Washton, senior research analysts