Katya Witham
Katya Witham is Senior Food & Drink Analyst, identifying and exploring the major trends across various FMCG categories, giving invaluable insights into global markets.

As we pass the six year mark since the Eurozone crisis and recession, the legacy left is still felt in many areas of Europe. In particular a change in consumer attitudes is evident, many consumers were prompted to change their shopping behaviour, with the search for value being at the heart of consumers’ newfound thriftiness.

Recent good news, in the form of economic growth across Europe slowly picking up, has led to the overall EU economic outlook strengthening in 2014. While European consumers are becoming more confident about the future, the legacy of the financial crisis left many discouraged from spending, negatively affecting grocery shopping expenditure. Although there are indications that some consumers in the UK, France and Germany are resuming spending at higher levels, markets such as Italy, Spain and Greece are still struggling.

Having faced tough economic conditions in the past six years, consumers have been gradually changing their shopping behaviour in order to better control spending and balance the budget. In the battle for footfall, European retailers have responded with aggressive promotional activity and expanded private label assortments, encouraging consumers’ saving mentality even further. But despite an improving economy, it has become clear that consumers’ newfound thrift is here to stay, as the financial crisis has made people realise that money is a scarce resource.

Mintel’s latest research reinforces these observations, highlighting that European consumers are not ready to give up their saving habits. Bargain hunting is being prioritised by the majority of European consumers surveyed in Q2 2014. This is particularly true for Italy, as two thirds (64%) of consumers there look out for more bargains and half (51%) of Polish consumers do the same. This is compared to 38% of German consumers and 44% of French consumers. Other strategies include downgrading food choices. Spain has the highest amount of consumers surveyed switching from branded to cheaper own-label groceries, as 39% of consumers record doing this. Again Italy and Poland prove to be the most conscious as 29% of Polish consumers and 30% of Italians have cut down on the number of premium products they buy. Consumers are also downgrading food choices as 22% of French consumers and 21% of Italian consumers have changed their diet to include more inexpensive foods.

The discount channel has benefited from consumers’ sentiments in the post-recession period. Emerging from the economic downturn, consumers have learnt to shop differently, showing less loyalty to retailers and national brands. The popularity of discount grocery retailers such as Aldi or Lidl has risen significantly over the past few years, with large swathes of shoppers in Poland, Italy, Germany, France and Spain reporting switching some their grocery shopping to cheaper value retailers. Consumers in Poland seem to be particularly price sensitive, with the overall economic uncertainty pushing more than four in 10 (44%) of consumer towards discount outlets. 39% of Italian consumers, 30% of German consumers and 26% of French consumers have also
made the switch.

It is not only low prices that attract consumers to discount supermarkets. Discounters are increasingly sharpening their competitive profile in order to offer better value for money and improve their shopping experience. As well as this, they have recognised the need to adapt to local markets. For example, Poland’s leading discounter and largest grocery retail chain Biedronka has worked hard to raise the quality of private label and to better adapt the product assortment to local tastes, resulting in the success of this discount retailer in Poland.

Also in the UK, both German discounters Aldi and Lidl have been ongoing winners with consumers over the past few years, forcing Britain’s ‘big four’ supermarkets Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons into a price war for consumer loyalty. The rise of Aldi and Lidl has occurred due to the flexing of their rigid business models and high levels of TV advertising spend in the UK, a diversion from the approach in their native German market.