Food Marketing Institute President and CEO to Chamber: Internet changes how people shop for groceries |

Food Marketing Institute President and CEO to Chamber: Internet changes how people shop for groceries

Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, explains to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation audience that the way consumers decide what foods to buy has become more complicated in recent decades.
Photo courtesy Food Marketing Institute

The internet has changed the way people shop for groceries because they have so many questions about their food and the Internet allows them to get those questions answered, Food Marketing Institute President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in the keynote speech at the recent Food Forward conference sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The result, Sarasin said, is an era of “radical personalization” in which consumers expect retailers “to discern, respect, and curate according to this set of individualized values.”

“Each consumer has his or her own unique shopping equation complete with product by product adaptations,” Sarasin said.

When FMI began keeping track of consumer trends 44 years ago, consumers used to care about three factors in their food purchases: taste, cost and convenience, Sarasin said.

But 35 years ago “about the time the internet really got cranking, we started noticing another factor — health and wellness — starting a slow ascent, never breaking into the top three but inching up year after year,” she said.

Since then, the number of consumer concerns has risen to include how food is produced and how the people who produced it are treated to whether it has genetically modified ingredients,” she said.

Sarasin said she believes one factor influencing consumer attitudes is the passage of time since people lived on farms where food is produced.

“Shoppers who are three and four generations removed from the farm seek a deeper connection to their food,” Sarasin said. “They may not want to move back to the farm (although a few are) but rather most engage virtually in quest of the deeper story about their food.”

Another factor, she said, is that 85 percent of Americans identify as food shoppers today, including many men.

“I always inwardly chuckle a bit whenever someone asks me what food consumers think about something. I always want to respond, “Which one? Which consumer are you talking about because they are all different.” Sarasin said.

Sarasin was the lead speaker at a half-day conference that Chamber Foundation President Carolyn Cawley said was intended to focus on the “velocity of change going on around us.” The foundation’s goal, Cawley said, is not only “to explain things and demystify them” but “to see if we are asking the right questions.”

Cawley also said that the foundation believes that businesses, nongovernmental organizations, government and civil society are “in this together” in the rapidly changing food sector.

The Chamber Foundation has posted the sessions online on its website at

Other sessions included the development of Union Kitchen, a food incubator business in Washington; the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a “Doomsday seed vault that holds nearly 1 million samples of crops from around the world; Goodr, an organization that discourages food waste; and Accenture’s role in using the blockchain in agriculture.


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