Food frugality may outlast recession
Consumer ‘green’ interests remain strong in weak economy
No longer ‘Just the facts, ma’am’

Food frugality may outlast recession

The habits that consumers have adopted in the current economic downturn may be here to stay.

As expected, the bad economy is causing profound changes in consumers’ food buying habits. What may be a little surprising is how some of those changes are shaping up-and how long they may last.

Among the highlights from aNielsen Co. reportissued earlier this summer:

• 42% said they are buying larger package sizes, presumably to get more for their money.
• 28% are trying to buy more products made in the U.S.
• 25% are trying to buy more locally made products.
• 23% say they are less likely to try new brands.

As in most recessions, consumers are cutting back on eating out: 56% in the Nielsen survey reported eating dinner less often at restaurants. However, this behavior is expected to outlast the recession. While 46% said they expected to dine out more once the recession lifts, they indicated a willingness to spend only a little more on dining out than they do now.

The Nielsen survey also found that older consumers will be more conservative in their spending habits once the recession lifts. This is because, unlike consumers under about age 30, they’ve lived through several economic downturns, and also because they’re saving for retirement.

That perspective was recently echoed by executives at General Mills. Ian Friendly, chief operating officer for U.S. retail, told Reuters that consumers persuaded (or forced) by the recession to eat more at home will probably continue that behavior once things improve. General Mills discerned a trend of eating more at home four years ago, before the recession started, he said.

Older people tend to eat more at home, which should be good news for General Mills and the food industry as a whole as the population ages, Friendly said. General Mills CEO Ken Powell predicted that food industry sales will grow at 3% to 4% annually even after the recession.

In asurvey by the Midwest Dairy Council, more than half of 1,002 respondents said price is more important than nutrition in grocery choices.

“This points to a need for more information about nutrient-rich foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, that deliver more bang for your buck than other options at the grocery store,” says Stephanie Cundith, a registered dietitian with the Dairy Council.

Consumer ‘green’ interests remain strong in weak economy

As consumer sentiment and discretionary income wane, interest in environmentally conscious shopping gains.

While analysts debate the validity of recession-proof products and markets, environmental awareness has held its own-and potentially flourished-in these troubling times. Despite the bleak economic landscape, 34% of American consumers are more likely to buy environmentally responsible products today, while another 44% indicate their environmental shopping habits have not changed as a result of the economy, says the2009 Cone Consumer Environmental Study.

Even as talk of the recession’s ending grows to a dull roar, the survey found that American interest in the environment has not waned. In turn, many consumers surveyed said they’re currently inclined to hold companies accountable for their environmental commitments and they expect to maintain this position. In that vein, 35% of Americans have higher expectations for companies to manufacture and market environmentally responsible products and services during the economic downturn. Suggesting that sustainability and environmental awareness is more than just a passing trend, 70% of those surveyed indicated that they’re keeping their eyes and ears open to what companies are doing with regard to the environment today, even if they cannot buy until a later date.

The Cone survey also found that as consumer confidence in companies tests record lows, trust in environmental messages remains surprisingly resilient. Of those surveyed, 63% say they trust companies to tell the truth in their environmental messaging. True to their accountability ways, however, 85% of consumers believe companies should communicate their environmental commitments year-round and not limit these campaigns to the weeks leading up to Earth Day when sustainability sentiment runs high.

No longer ‘Just the facts, ma’am’

While consumers continue to look to the Nutrition Facts panel first, other package features are influencing the purchasing decision.

According to a recentInternational Food Information Council survey, 69% of consumers look to a food or beverage’s Nutrition Facts label to guide their decision in purchasing that product. However, the survey also indicates consumers are looking outside the box, particularly at a product’s expiration date and the brand name.

Nearly two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed look at a product’s expiration date, giving substance to the variable data trend that has gained popularity in flexible packaging in recent years. The study also found that 50% of those surveyed look to the brand name associated with the product, a figure that has risen over four years.

With regard to the Nutrition Facts panel, the survey found that consumers were apt to review that portion of the packaging when purchasing new items-whether new to the customer or the marketplace altogether-or comparing items that share similar front claims and similar price points.

Chemical Market Associates Inc.
DeWitt & Co. Inc.
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