Just like those who lived through the Great Depression thought and lived differently thereafter, this current rough, economic period may leave its mark affecting the way we choose and purchase food for a long time to come. Thanks to the great productivity of the American food system, we use approximately 10% of our total income to buy food. But, when household incomes plummet this percentage goes up. High income households pay about 7% of their income for food, but at the lower-income end the percentage can go as high as 36%. Many families have seen an abrupt drop in income because men, traditionally the higher wage earner in the family, have suffered 80% of the job losses. Families are managing on the wife’s lower income plus public assistance, when available. These realities influence food purchases.
Recent economic history has sensitized Americans to the cost of food. In the years 2006 to 2008 the annual rise in food prices more than doubled from 2.4% to 5.5%. At the same time the economy was deteriorating and incomes for most were flat. In the fall of 2008 we hit the second shock wave and no one missed this one. It was the most severe economic downturn since the 1930s. With unsettled finances, in the first quarter of 2009, Americans reduced their overall food purchases by 4%, the greatest quarterly adjustment since 1947. The frugal food shopper was here to stay.
Our sustained difficult economic conditions have made being thrifty smart and trendy. According to a recent survey 68% of people report dining out less in upscale restaurants but business at fast food restaurants is thriving. Dollar meals and foot-long $5 sandwiches that can feed more than one have become the trade-down. No food category has seen a more dramatic shift than the fancy on-the-go coffees, where a $4 Starbucks coffee is seen as the poster-child for excess. Starbucks is closing stores while Dunkin Donuts expands. Americans are getting their coffee at Quick Check, 7-Eleven and even McDonalds; 54% have started making coffee at home again.
Sales of organic food have slowed and are more modest than the double-digit growth of the not so recent past. More shoppers are choosing private label store brands instead of the more pricey national brands. Store brands (the old generic food category) are getting a closer look for 3 reasons:
1. Most are 20% to 30% cheaper than national brands.
2. The quality of the products has improved and the packaging and marketing has made them look like smart, attractive alternatives. Even the current names – like Wal-Mart’s Great Value store brand – sound like you are getting something good for your food dollar. Kroger and Wegman’s supermarkets are increasingly advertising and marketing their store brands, many of which are made by competitive national brand companies.
3. The first two trends have gotten more consumers to try store brands and people have come away realizing store brands are equal to and in some cases better than the national items.
But, we are still not cooking at home. Since more women’s jobs than men’s survived the economic cuts, women are busier than ever outside the home. This makes fast, inexpensive, ready-prepared food a desired option. In 2011, the money spent on prepared food, equaled for the first time the amount spent on food made at home. Increasingly, someone else is cooking for us. This may save time, but most ready-prepared choices will be more calorie-dense and have more sodium and fat.
The status of the economy has changed the way Americans shop for food – where, when and what they buy. They go to the supermarket with the widest selection at the best prices. Wal-Mart is closing in on selling $1 out of every $4 spent on groceries annually in the US. We are making fewer trips to the supermarket and cutting down on spontaneous purchases. And, store brands rule. Meet the new American food shopper, coupons in one hand and weekly store brochure in the other – let the shopping begin!
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
Your Complete Food Counter App: Click Here
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts
For advertising and promotion on HealthNewsDigest.com please contact Mike McCurdy: tvmike13@HealthNewsDigest.com or 877-634-9180
HealthNewsDigest.com is syndicated worldwide, to thousands of journalists in all media, and health-related websites. www.HealthNewsDigest.com
Top of Page
Us | Job Listings
| Help | Site
Map | About Us
Advertising Information | HND Press Release | Submit Information | Disclaimer