Consumers cut food purchases, zero in on healthful foods

by Staff
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MADISON, Wis. — Consumers are buying less food, less frequently, making value that includes health the crux of their shopping ethos, claims What’s in Store 2012, the published trends report from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA). Spending on food and gasoline is increasing despite the fact both staples have become more expensive.

IDDBA is a nonprofit membership organization serving the dairy, deli, bakery, cheese, and supermarket foodservice industries.

Consumers’ actions include destocking their pantries and buying less during shopping trips. Nielsen reported that more than 60 percent of US shopping trips are now classified as immediate, or low-value, instant-need driven trips with an average basket ring of $15.

The total of average shopping trips have declined from 2.2 per week in 2005 to 1.7 in 2011, according to the Food Marketing Institute. Low price was the most important factor to consumers in choosing a primary store, where they spend most of their grocery budgets.

Simultaneously, many consumer goods processors have decreased package sizes but not prices to offset rising input costs. Smaller packaging is often labeled as greener, portable and healthier than larger sizes.

Meanwhile, cautious, frugal consumers are still practicing their recession-inspired shopping tactics to save money. Two out of three shoppers make lists before shopping while 56 percent read store fliers, according to SymphonyIRI.

Sixty percent of shoppers claim they dine out less often, down from 65 percent in 2010. Thirty-eight percent have given up their favorite brands to save money, down from 46 percent in 2010. Thirty-six percent of shoppers seek out private-label brands to save money, down from 44 percent in 2010, according to SymphonyIRI. Thriftiness, however, continues as value is a prime purchasing motivator.

Valued products are worth the money, but are also high in quality and perceived benefits like convenience, nutrition and health. Wellness and healthy eating are now concepts that extend to the quality of food, defined by fresh, natural and nutritious ingredients. Consumers expect healthy foods to cost the same as less healthy foods.

Eating healthier foods is also seen as a preventive measure to avoid future health-care costs. More consumers are altering their diets to include more plant-based foods for reasons of health and environmental concern. More are also becoming flexitarians, who regularly eat meatless meals.

There’s growth, too, in veganism, a diet that excludes animal products. Vegan meals are hot options in many innovative restaurants and the diet is going mainstream with packaged food manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon.

Consumers are eating healthier by cooking at home. Those meals are comprised of more local products, like fruits and vegetables. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines released in early 2011 are also prompting consumers to balance calorie intake with calorie usage, as well as to reduce refined grains and salt, and to eat more vegetables. Consumers are also paying more attention to products that have information on their packaging about natural/environmental claims status, such as third-party certifiers for fair trade and non-GMO.

Whole Foods began using a meat-labeling program that features a five-step, color-coded labeling system that references the lifestyle of the animal. A rating of five indicates the animal lived on one farm since birth and lived year-round on a pasture with at least 75 percent vegetation, among other conditions.

The US market for kosher and halal foods, which correspond to Jewish and Islamic law respectively, is growing. Both customs emphasize humane treatment of animals that will be used for meat.

Consumers believe organic foods have more nutritional value and taste. The US organic industry grew by 7.7 percent in 2010 to total $28.6 billion, with produce as the top category, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic shoppers are buying more goods at mass market retailers and traditional retailers than at natural food stores, following the influx of organic product lines from those retailers. More than two-thirds of shoppers say that organic product selection is important in their food retail store of choice.

Japanese, Caribbean and Thai foods are the most popular ethnic cuisines at home. The popularity of specialty foods is also on the rise, with a 7.4 percent jump in sales in 2010 to represent 13.1 percent of all retail food sales, according to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

Leading new product claims were kosher, all-natural, ethical and environmentally friendly packaging.

The product claims ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable,’ both commonly associated with healthy and environmentally friendly attributes, have no industry-wide definition.

For more information, visit the organization's website, www.iddba.org.

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