Lower-calorie foods, beverages drive supermarket sales growth

June 9, 2015

A report from the Hudson Institute shows that lower-calorie foods and beverages drove the bulk of sales growth for supermarket chains between 2009 and 2013, making up 59% of growth, compared to just 41% for their higher-calorie counterparts. This is the first report to examine the business impact that sales of lower-calorie items have on supermarket chains.

Those trend lines did not hold, however, for foods and beverages that contribute the most calories to the diets of children and adolescents, items like desserts, snacks, sugary drinks, and pizzas. During the study period, higher-calorie versions of these products made up more than 70% of sales and grew more than 12%, whereas lower-calorie foods and drinks saw growth of roughly 5%.

The overall shift in supermarket sales to lower-calorie products is largely consistent with recent changes in the restaurant and food and beverage industries, except that sales of lower-calorie items grew at an even faster rate for the latter two sectors, indicating that supermarkets could be taking better advantage of the public’s shift in food preferences.

“Customers are looking for lower-calorie choices wherever they are,” said Hank Cardello, lead author of the report, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and director of the Institute’s Obesity Solutions Initiative. “The good news is, supermarkets’ growth is being driven by these products, but compared to other sectors they’re still leaving money on the table. There is a tremendous opportunity to drive even more sales by focusing more on lower-calorie options.”

The new report also compared sales of stores in food deserts—areas with limited access to healthy, affordable foods—to those not in food deserts. Cardello and colleagues found that lower-calorie sales were growing at a greater rate than higher-calorie sales in both areas. However, the share of total sales in food deserts from lower-calorie items was less than for stores not located in food deserts—enough to equate to $500 million in forgone lower-calorie revenue for stores in food deserts.

Press release