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Survey finds few older Americans grocery shop online

Two groups of older Americans who buy groceries and food online stand out: those in higher income brackets, and those who report mobility issues.

The number of Americans over the age of 50 who do their grocery shopping online is relatively low, with only 17% having ever ordered groceries to be picked up from a store, 17% ordering from a prepared meal delivery service, 16% ordering groceries to be delivered and 10% having ordered from a meal kit delivery service.

Those are among the findings from a new survey the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation conducted in collaboration with the AARP Foundation.

On the other hand, the vast majority of older consumers shop at more traditional venues in person, with 90% shopping at a supermarket at least once a month, 71% at a superstore and 46% at a warehouse/discount club.

“While the overall number of Americans over 50 who grocery shop online is relatively low, the findings can help us forecast future trends as technology use becomes even more common among older adults and other age groups,” said Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, vice president of research and partnerships at the IFIC Foundation.

Two groups of older consumers who buy groceries and food online tend to stand out, and they come from different ends of the spectrum: those in higher income brackets, and those who report mobility issues (and also tend to have lower incomes).

A typical older online grocery shopper is likely to be in their 50s, from the Northeast, college educated, working full time and white.

Online grocery shoppers with annual incomes below $35,000 (30%) are more likely to report mobility issues as a major obstacle than those earning more than $75,000 (7%).

“We found that older Americans who buy groceries online are not at all a monolithic group and that there are a variety of reasons and motivations behind their purchases,” Lewin-Zwerdling said. “Changing desires and circumstances in life change our online purchasing behavior, with diverse factors from affluence and education to physical limitations.”

Consumers ages 50 and older who order food online do so infrequently. Of those who do, most use computers to order groceries or meal delivery. Of those who order online less than once a month, 41% do so from a prepared meal delivery service, 40% from a meal kit delivery service, 34% for in-person grocery pickup and 55% for grocery delivery.

Older Americans' online purchases are comprised of several categories of consumer packaged goods and other products, which generally descend — as might be expected — in order of shelf life or perishability.

Products that online shoppers are currently buying or feel comfortable buying include: cleaning products (89%), household paper products (88%), canned foods (86%), packaged pantry items (82%), bottled water (79%), condiments and sauces (78%), personal hygiene products (74%), spices (73%), grains other than bread (72%), carbonated beverages (72%), teas or juices (70%), bread (63%), fruits and vegetables (54%), dairy products (52%), deli meat and cheese (44%), meats (40%) and premade dishes (39%).

When it comes to the companies where seniors shop online for food or groceries, a few stand above the rest in terms of frequency of use.

The top grocery delivery companies are Amazon Fresh (58%), Peapod (24%), Google Express (18%) and Fresh Direct (17%). The top meal kit delivery companies are Blue Apron (63%) and Hello Fresh (42%), with several others at 10% or less. At the top of the list of prepared meal delivery companies is Schwann's (37%), followed by orders from restaurants (16%) and from Freshly (12%).

Online shoppers report both motivators for and barriers to their purchases.

Among those who already order groceries or food online, factors that motivate them include: not having to travel to a store (82%), the ability to place their order when they have time (78%), access to a wide variety of products (73%), the ability to take time to shop for exactly what they need (73%) and not having the physical burden of getting around the store or carrying groceries (72%).

Conversely, barriers to online orders for the general 50-plus population include: high delivery or service fees (89%), purchasing items in bad condition such as bruised produce (88%), a desire to see/touch groceries in person (88%), difficulty returning a product if it's not what they wanted or is spoiled (88%) and receiving the wrong or incomplete order (84%). Consumers over age 65 are more likely than others to report barriers.

The survey found a gender gap in some factors that would encourage people to shop for groceries to be delivered more frequently.

For instance, if there were a guarantee that products were personally inspected, 70% of women would be encouraged to make more online purchases, compared to 61% of men; special coupons for online shoppers would encourage 67% of women versus 58% of men; 64% of women would be encouraged by loyalty programs versus 52% of men, and 63% of women would be encouraged by the ability to view labels before purchasing a product versus 51% of men.

When it comes to concerns about the safety of products purchased online, those who make such purchases have far fewer concerns than the general 50-plus population: In the general population, 56% say they have no safety concerns, while 21% say they do have concerns, whereas for online shoppers, 79% say they have no such concerns versus 13% who do.

Consumers who shop online are more attentive to food labels, with 74% seeking label information, compared to 59% in the overall 50-plus population. That doesn't mean they're having success finding the information they want, however. Those who shop online and generally have more interest in reading labels overwhelmingly say it's harder to get package information online than in person.

Similar gaps exist for those looking for information online about nutrition benefits or health benefits.

“As grocery shopping and other food purchases move increasingly online, the chasm between older Americans' desire to know more about their food and their ability to find that information is troubling,” Lewin-Zwerdling said. “This suggests that we could improve the overall health of the older population by thinking more strategically and creatively about how to give them the information they want — and that would help them make more healthy choices when selecting foods and beverages to consume.”

For online shoppers and the general population, the most-sought packaging information is the item's expiration date (78% for both), followed by the ingredient list (70% for online shoppers versus 58% for the general population), the Nutrition Facts Panel (61% online versus 52% in general) and front-of-package information about calories and nutrition (55% online versus 46% general population).

The findings for the IFIC study were derived from an online survey of 1,004 Americans ages 50 and older conducted June 13-21, 2018, by Greenwald & Associates using Research Now's consumer panel. An oversample allowed for analysis of 370 consumers who have ordered groceries for delivery.

General population results were weighted (by age, education, gender, race/ethnicity, region and income) to ensure that they are reflective of the older American population, as seen in the U.S. Census Bureau's 2017 "Current Population Survey." Results on those who order groceries for delivery were not weighted.

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