SINGAPORE: Grocery shopping habits are changing across the Asia-Pacific region as consumers respond to rising prices and the growth of modern retail outlets, according to a Nielsen study.

The 2012 Retail and Shopper Trends Report from market research firm Nielsen, which examines sector trends in 13 markets across the Asia-Pacific region, suggested that the region's sales of packaged groceries were up 13% year on year.

But Nielsen also noted that consumers are taking a more cautious approach to their grocery purchases, and are increasingly looking to economise as prices rise.

One way in which this has manifested is in shoppers spending less on each trip but taking more frequent trips to the grocery store, the report suggested. 

Peter Gale, Nielsen's Managing Director of Retailer Services in the region, also suggested that the typical APAC consumer's in-store behaviour contrasted with that of shoppers in developed markets, where consumers look for items on promotions.

"In developing nations shoppers are focusing on buying only essential items," he said.

The report added that more and more shoppers are using modern stores, continuing a long-term trend which has seen an annual 1% shift for the past decade. Overall, modern trade store numbers increased 11% to 270,000, with convenience stores seeing the biggest growth at 15%.

Gale said he expected this trend to continue, noting that "the frequent interaction these chains have with their regular shoppers provides substantial opportunities to introduce new services which help to make shoppers' lives even more convenient". 

By country, the greatest investment in modern stores was found to be taking place in Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.

Private label brands contributed less than 8% of sales in modern trade outlets across the region, but some product categories, such as rice and cooking products, are showing signs of growth.

"Retailers need to invest in improving product quality and packaging, as well as marketing," Gale said.

Retailers will also need to invest in their online presence in coming years. Currently, less than 10% of urban shoppers in most Asian markets visit grocery retailers' websites regularly and, of those who do, online purchasing is low.

Only South Korea has a significantly developed online grocery market which may provide a pointer as to how other markets in the region develop in future, the Nielsen report added.

Data from Nielsen; addiontal content by Warc staff