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MIDA: Tech, economy redefine grocery shopping in Puerto Rico

Its Consumer X-Ray revealed that average monthly spending on food purchases stayed flat when compared to 2023.

The self-checkout system is an alternative that is here to stay among Puerto Rican consumers, according to the findings of the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry and Distribution’s (MIDA, in Spanish) 2024 Consumer X-Ray, as more than half of shoppers used the technology to pay for their purchases.

According to the research conducted annually by MIDA, 48% of the consumers surveyed said they use self-checkout, while almost a third of those users said they use it whenever available, said MIDA President Joeyleen Quiñones.

The integration of this type of technology to facilitate and streamline the purchasing process has “been key for the physical store to maintain and recover consumer preference for buying in-store, after the increase in online shopping during the pandemic,” said Richard Valdés, chairman of the Consumer X-Ray committee.

The study shows that 86% of consumers prefer to make purchases physically versus 14% online. As an example, he cited that more than half of consumers who use self-checkout do so for convenience, either when they are in a hurry (33%) or when there is a long line at the cash registers (30%).

“During the pandemic years, the consumer got used to not standing in line due to social distancing and in those years internalized the use of technology as part of their daily purchases,” said Félix Aponte, who will assume the presidency of MIDA on June 15.

“So, we have to continue innovating, paying attention to the needs of that consumer, but at the same time implementing it with the necessary precautions to avoid its misuse,” he added. “This is what happens with all technology, we must embrace innovation with open eyes and due precautions.”

According to another study commissioned by MIDA in December 2023, “Portrait of the Food Industry,” 56% of supermarket owners interviewed generally expressed an increase in theft in their stores, although not necessarily related to self-checkout.

MIDA believes consumers have burned through their savings accrued during the pandemic and are now racking up debt. (Credit: Cagkan Sayin | Dreamstime.com)

Consumer budget under pressure
This year, average monthly spending on food purchases stayed flat when compared to 2023, with $452 per month on food purchases in 2024 versus $453 in the previous year.

Manuel Reyes-Alfonso, executive vice president of MIDA, believes that the stabilization of average monthly spending, despite inflationary increases, is related to several factors but is concerning because it points to a possible reduction in the sale of units or adjustments in the combination of products that are purchased.

“Although percentage increases in prices are lower than what we saw after the pandemic, inflation is a challenge for everyone,” he said. “The problem is when we evaluate that this loss in purchasing power due to inflation is combined with the fact that consumers seem to have exhausted the excess savings they achieved during the pandemic, and we see an increase in personal debt and a reduction in imports.”

Call on the government to reduce costs
“We don’t control much of the inflation locally as we import 85% of the food we consume and our price index behaves similarly to that of the U.S.,” said Reyes-Alfonso. “However, locally we aggravate the situation by adding costs and operational increases of all kinds that increase the prices of the items that are then taxed at that new price, with the state being the only one that benefits from that inflation.”

He explained that in the case of taxes calculated as a percentage of the sale price or value of the increased item, such as the Sales and Use Tax, the municipal patent and the inventory tax, the government charges more as the products become more expensive.

“The main call is not to continue increasing the costs of doing business, which in turn translate into prices. Likewise, that these excess tax collections associated with the inflationary impact translate into reductions or are given back to citizens to lower the cost of living,” he said.

Distrust in basic services also impacts budget
Adding to the issue of living costs that put pressure on consumers’ budgets, Diana Rodríguez-Figueroa, president of Lighthouse Strategies, the company that oversaw the study, which included a sample of 1,350 house-to-house interviews in the eight census regions, pointed out that distrust in basic services is clearly seen as a factor.

In this sense, 52% of the consumers surveyed responded that they have a home backup generator versus 48% in 2023. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who have solar panels and a solar heater increased. Consumers who reported having a water tank also increased from 31% in 2023 to 37% in 2024. On the other hand, the number of consumers responding not to have any of the previous alternatives decreased from 34% in 2023 to 26% in 2024.

“Previous versions of the X-Ray had identified consumers’ intention to purchase generators, which is now validated and points to a consumer with multiple pressures on their budget that in turn may be affecting their spending on groceries,” she added.

The study reflects that 47% of participants take items out of the shopping cart because “there isn’t enough money” and 28% of those surveyed responded that they will always have “the exact amount of money” when grocery shopping, which goes up to 39% in the case of Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN, in Spanish) participants.

In the case of a product like meat, the study reflects that the percentage of consumers who purchase it regularly increased from 64% to 74%, but it is one of the main items that breaks the budget according to 43% of respondents versus 25% in 2023.

A whopping 92% of respondents reported that they currently cook at home, and half of those who confirmed cooking at home said they meal-prep for several days at a time. (Credit: Syda Productions | Dreamstime.com)

Cooking at home as a solution
Despite these challenges, or perhaps consequently, consumers have identified cooking at home as their best alternative. A whopping 92% of respondents said they currently cook at home, and half of respondents who confirmed cooking at home said they meal-prep for several days at a time.

The trend of cooking at home has evolved over the decades. In 1996, 48% of consumers reported cooking dinner at home. In 2010, it increased to 79% of consumers surveyed, and by 2024, 89% of consumers were cooking dinner at home, according to the study.

The findings of the study will be presented Thursday as part of the activities of the 2024 MIDA Conference & Food Show.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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