Effects of Expiration Dates on Purchasing Decisions

Recent research found 51% of shoppers expect a remaining shelf life of eight (8) or more days if paying full price for perishable food products, while 73% said they expected at least 15 days on non-perishable (center store grocery, OTC/Vitamin) products. The study done by UW-Whitewater in partnership with Date Check Pro provides grocers with a rare insight into how expiration dates and shelf life impact a shopper’s willingness to pay.

The study focused on four core insights – 1) How often do shopper’s check expiration dates, 2) How difficult is it to determine the expiration date on products, 3) What are the ideal and minimum shelf life expectations for full price and discounted food, and 4) How do Food Waste Prevention programs impact shopper perceptions of the store brand and quality? Let’s take a look at the key findings for each:

How often do shopper’s check expiration dates?

Not surprisingly, these numbers are high with 54% saying they ALWAYS check expiration dates on perishable department items, and only 19% saying they never do. Those numbers drop heavily as they move into the center store though where half as many shoppers (27%) said they always check dates, and a near majority 47% said they never check dates on those products.

How difficult is it to determine the expiration date on products?

Recent legislation introduced in 2016 seeks to reduce the variety and confusion around “expiration date” labels being used on products. The good news is this study found the majority of shoppers felt it was easy or very easy to find and determine a product’s expiration date, whether perishable or non-perishable. Such legislation will surely further improve the results.

What are the ideal and minimum shelf life expectations?

Compared to the minimum shelf live expectation above, shoppers certainly exhibit a willingness to purchase products with shorter remaining shelf life if at a discounted price. The super-majority of 74% of shoppers were now willing to purchase perishable food with 7 or less days remaining and 60% willing to purchase non-perishables with 14 days or less remaining.

The study also delivered valuable insights for grocery chains and independents positioning themselves as having high quality food and service. When asked for ideal shelf life expectations rather than minimum, the results grew from 51% to 62% seeking 8 days or longer on perishable food at full price. Unexpectantly, the number stayed almost identical for minimum vs. ideal shelf life on non-perishable products, meaning shoppers have pretty clearly defined expectations for these items on their shopping list.

How do Food Waste Prevention programs impact shopper perception? 

Of those that answered questions asking how likely they are to buy food products associated with a Food Waste Program, 68% said they would be a little or much more likely to buy these items. That result indicates that stores implementing such programs are likely able to sell through short-dated product by discounting it through branded food waste programs, while some shoppers will always prefer to pay full-price for items with a longer remaining shelf life.

Stores also stand to benefit in terms of brand perception, with 33% of shoppers saying they are more inclined to shop at stores that participate in Food Waste Programs.

To read the entire study and see all result charts, you can download the full publication here.