Impact of Inflation on Grocery: Pricing Insights on Leading US Retailers

Impact of Inflation on Grocery: Pricing Insights on Leading US Retailers

16th Jun, 2023


By Krish

Inflation, like an invisible force, silently shapes the dynamics of economies, gradually eroding the purchasing power of consumers and leaving its imprint on various industries. High costs, hiring lags, and stagnating earnings pose severe challenges to businesses. One industry segment that intimately feels the impact of inflation is grocery, where price increases can be extremely concerning for the average consumer.

Over the last 12-plus months, the US has experienced a notable rise in inflation, stirring up concerns and influencing the way we shop for everyday essentials. Rising costs of raw materials, transportation, and labor have all played a role in driving up prices. Additionally, disruptions in global supply chains and fluctuations in currency exchange rates have further exacerbated the situation, creating a complex web of interdependencies.

To understand the magnitude of this phenomenon across leading e-retailers, we delved into an in-depth analysis of four major retail giants: Walmart, Amazon, Target, and Kroger.

Each of these retailers possesses a unique business model and competitive strategy, as well as faces unique challenges. This leads to distinct approaches to managing inflationary pressures. Walmart for instance, expects operating income growth to outpace sales growth in 2023. Given the persistence of high prices and the potential for further macro pressures, the retailer is taking a cautious outlook. In 2022, Amazon’s eCommerce business swung to a net loss of $2.7 billion, compared to a profit of $33.4 billion the previous year.

Amid these challenging circumstances, understanding the grocery pricing trends and strategies becomes imperative for retailers, both online and in stores to adapt and thrive in the current economic landscape. By examining their pricing trends, we can gain valuable insights into how these companies navigate the turbulent waters of the grocery industry against the backdrop of inflation.

Our Research Methodology

The data collected for our analysis encompassed a diverse range of products, from pantry staples like flour and rice to perishable goods like dairy and produce – a basket of around 600 SKUs matched across Amazon, Kroger, Target and Walmart, between January 2022 to February 2023.

Further, we separately focused on the prices of a smaller subset of 30+ high-volume daily staples that are likely to yield higher sales and margins for these retailers.

Average Selling Price of a Broad Set of Grocery Items

Our analysis reveals that Walmart consistently offers the lowest prices, with an average of 8% below its closest competitor, Target, despite an annual price increase of about 5%. Walmart seems to prioritize a “stability and predictability” strategy over margin optimization. The retailer’s 8% growth last quarter indicates that this strategy is bearing fruit. However, it’s important to note that this approach may have its drawbacks as Walmart’s margins come under pressure.

Average selling price trend across a basket of 500+ SKUs across Target, Walmart, Kroger, Amazon in the grocery category from Jan ’22 to Feb ’23.

In order to weather inflationary pressures, Walmart may adopt a cautious approach to growth while also focusing on securing margins. Reports suggest that the retailer has been pushing back against consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers following a series of price hikes to counter inflationary cost pressures in early 2023. One of the reasons behind Walmart’s growth and increased sales can be attributed to ‘non-traditional’ higher-income households now seeking deals and discounts at Walmart as their spending power declines.

Interestingly, Amazon emerges as the highest-priced retailer, followed by Kroger, which increased its prices by 10% throughout the year. Consumer perception commonly associates Amazon with the lowest prices, but the data tells a different story. In fact, Amazon has been charging 12% to 18% higher prices than Walmart for groceries and is still maintaining its success.

While the company’s online sales declined by 4%, it saw a significant 9% increase in revenue from third-party seller services, such as warehousing, packaging, and delivery, in 2022. Amazon’s strong logistics and same-day delivery services give it a competitive advantage over other retailers, contributing to its revenue growth and margins. Interestingly, this presents an opportunity for Walmart and other retailers to increase prices while maintaining their strong competitive price positions.

Kroger, on the other hand, seems to be aiming for a premium price perception, consistently raising prices almost every month. Kroger’s pricing strategy appears to be closer to Amazon’s.

Average Selling Price for High-Volume Daily Staples

Pricing strategies often change for different categories of products. To better understand this, we focused our analysis further on a small subset of 30+ high-volume staples across retailers. These include baked goods, popular beverages, canned food, frozen meals, dairy, cereals, detergents, and other similar items.

Average selling price trend of 30+ high-volume daily staples across Target, Walmart, Kroger, Amazon in the grocery category from Jan ’22 to Feb ’23.

Walmart, possibly overestimating the impact of inflation, has continued to keep its prices the lowest, potentially aiming to increase margins through volume.

The level of price disparity across retailers is expectedly lower here, with Amazon and Kroger closely tracking Walmart’s average prices.

Target’s pricing strategy stands out as it consistently emerges as the highest-priced retailer for daily staples, despite being one of the lower-priced retailers for a broader basket of grocery items. This suggests that Target’s underlying technology may not be as optimized to address market dynamics compared to other leading retailers. In our opinion, Target may want to strengthen its efforts to track pricing more intensely for this sub-category.

A Data-fuelled Approach is the Need of the Hour

In the challenging economic landscape, retailers and grocery stores are under pressure to maintain their revenues and margins. Adopting a comprehensive and dynamic pricing strategy is crucial. Understanding which product categories are experiencing price increases among competitors can help retailers make informed decisions on pricing at both the category and product level.

Retailers should consider their balancing margin performance with consumers’ willingness to pay, rather than implementing broad price increases that may harm customer trust. Price increases can be challenging for both customers and merchants. Retailers who employ a data-driven and insight-based approach are more likely to succeed.

Keep an eye on the DataWeave blog for analysis on pricing, discounting, stock availability, discoverability, and more, across retailers and brands from other industry segments as well.

For immediate insights, subscribe to our interactive grocery price tracking dashboard. Better still, reach out to us to speak to a DataWeave expert today!

- Krish
President & COO at DataWeave, 16th Jun, 2023

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