The power of personalization in food shopping: Two online retailers show the way - SmartBrief

All Articles Food Consumer Insights The power of personalization in food shopping: Two online retailers show the way

The power of personalization in food shopping: Two online retailers show the way

Consumer priorities in food and beverages have shifted toward finding items that signal increased personalization to health and wellness needs and goals.

6 min read

Consumer Insights

grocery technology


Personalized online grocery shopping is serious business and brick-and-mortar retailers would be well-advised to take note. Food and beverages have been the traditional avenues through which consumers have approached daily healthy living. Consumer priorities in food and beverages have shifted toward finding items that signal increased personalization to health and wellness needs and goals.

The Food Industry Association‘s 2019 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Report, prepared by The Hartman Group, brought the personalized food shopping trend to the forefront. We find that today’s households are eating in increasingly personalized ways as they pursue individual aspirations for eating well, challenging the food shopping experience. Here are four key points about personalized shopping from the consumer perspective:

  • Food retailers should be cautious and sensitive to what drives consumers to personalize eating, concerns they have about going too far and what kinds of relationships they’re willing to engage in with stores to achieve their shopping and eating aspirations.
  • Shoppers are not asking for differentiated treatment, but it may be a plus. They expect to control and do some of the work of personalization; that’s what they think shopping is. They just want shopping to be easier, with flexibility to meet their families’ changing needs.
  • Families still want to eat together, and family meals require balancing among personal and shared needs and tastes. Desires for social cohesion and parental goals for cultivating healthy food habits put hard limits on extreme eating personalization. 
  • Specialized eating habits are not the domain of specialty retail. Consumers rate stores most highly that excel at the benefits of personalization: convenience, caring, and enabling the shopper to meet their needs. While specialty stores find it easy to understand and make recommendations, they do not own these benefits.

Shoppers see the process of shopping across channels and banners as a personalization strategy and they expect food retailers to evolve with their needs, offering more personalization. 

The personalization factor in online grocery shopping

If 2020 was the year of the pandemic, it was also the year of online grocery shopping. Already on the rise in recent years, participation in online grocery shopping skyrocketed in 2020 as pandemic fears and stay-at-home orders prompted many shoppers to source groceries online more frequently or even for the first time. The Hartman Group’s Food Sourcing in America 2020 report finds that, among U.S. shoppers, 27% say they now shop online for groceries more than before COVID-19.

Thrive Market has been one of the online grocery retailer success stories of the past year. Thrive offers curated natural, organic, and healthy product selections at “wholesale prices” thanks in no small part to its membership-based business model. The online purveyor implemented a personalized shopping experience since the onset of the pandemic to tap into consumers’ desire for convenience and to meet their special dietary needs. They do this by building personalized offerings via an onboarding quiz that captures shoppers’ needs and preferences, which enables the retailer to prioritize products aligned with those values, enhancing the browsing experience. 

This doesn’t imply that Thrive Market was immune from the supply chain issues most other retailers experienced. Early on in the pandemic, like other retailers, Thrive experienced out-of-stocks, delayed shipping, and even reduced shopping hours, but the retailer has since recovered, and the online marketplace continues to attract consumers wanting to limit their time in-store. 

Thrive Market’s alignment with trends in customization and personalization that has drawn consumers in the past is also relevant to the particular needs of consumers during the pandemic as they shifted to online shopping.

Thrive’s “manifesto” of not being the “everything store” builds consumer trust in their product selection. The ability to filter by product attribute and the personalized shopping service also streamlines the shopping process. Personalized inventories are the type of time-saving, yet flexible conveniences that could keep shoppers online, even as the immediate risks associated with in-store shopping lessen.

Echoing the popularity of Thrive Market’s approach to personalized online shopping, a new online retailer launched in February 2021: According to the company’s website: 

“Sifter was built for the way you shop, with an emphasis on personalization, product discovery, accurate info, ease of use, and purchase options. Brothers Andrew and Thomas Parkinson, founders of both Peapod (1989) and ltemMaster (2009), created Sifter to advance the shopping experience and promote better health. Sifter’s proprietary profile technology helps you find and buy products that fit your specific dietary, medical, and lifestyle preferences.”

Sifter also partners with retailers and CPG players and offers customization tools that can be used to target and reach consumers with new product opportunities. 

With regard to Sifter (and similar to Thrive’s success variables), consumers are transitioning away from a one-size-fits-all mentality toward believing that what is best for all may not be best for themselves, and Sifter’s approach is in line with this shift. However, it will be crucial for the technology to continuously align to evolving needs and preferences as consumers may otherwise lose interest once they have built an understanding of what kinds of products support their unique requirements. 

This is a powerful tool to help consumers sort through a growing list of personalized product options, it will require full collaboration across retailers and CPG players to build trust with users and ensure the accuracy of nutrition claims of the recommended products.

The bottom line: Digital should amplify rather than replace non-digital efforts. Sharing personal data and supporting personal eating require permission and a foundation of existing trust.

Related stories:

As CEO of The Hartman Group, Demeritt drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company’s associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.


If you enjoyed this article, you can sign up for the FMI dailyLead, ProChef SmartBrief or Restaurant SmartBrief to get news like this in your inbox. For even more great news content, sign up for any of SmartBrief’s 275+ free email newsletters today, free.