Recessionary Food Trends

piggybankingrocerycartThe recession is making its impact throughout the grocery industry, according to the Food Marketing Institute’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2009 report.  Consumers are changing what they buy, how they shop and even where they shop.  The new FMI report outlines three major shopping trends related to the economy: 

  • Saving money on eating out:  55% of shoppers now spend less money on dining out than they did one year ago.  People are eating out less (69%) or eating out in less expensive places (50%).   Consumers also believe they’re doing something good for their family when they eat at home; 92% believe that home-cooked meals are much healthier than the food they eat when dining out. 
  • Money-saving measures at current store:  Shoppers are trading down, substituting and eliminating in efforts to save money on groceries.  The most frequently cited change was the switch to private label (66%).  Shoppers also said they were more likely to compare unit prices, clip coupons, seek sales specials, make grocery lists, and resist impulse purchases or luxury items.
  • Switch primary grocery store:  Shoppers tend to have a great loyalty to their primary store and only 6% said they switched primary stores to save money.  However, 45% said they occasionally shop at other stores to capitalize on sales specials.

Price has become shoppers’ primary means of comparison.  While appearance, nutrition and brand are key features, 76% always check the price when purchasing an item for the first time.  Beyond the first-time purchase, price is now the number one factor in selecting their primary store.  The report concludes than many of these changes appear to be quite durable and not likely to be abandoned quickly after the economy improves.

One recessionary trend that Elizabeth Sloan identifies in Food Technology is the “pleasure principle.”  As people cut back on dining out, she writes, they’ll be looking for additional excitement in the foods they eat at home.  She says that despite a tough economy, consumers have demonstrated their willingness to splurge on indulgent treats, beverages that ensure enjoyable “me time,” and snack foods that provide a unique, emotional, flavorful and fun experience.

Ice cream and chocolate are tied as the top treats that people (55%) are willing to pay a premium; these categories are followed by cookies (37%), frozen cheddarbeernovelties (31%) and coffee (28%).  Snacking frequency has rebounded and indulgent snacking has gained momentum, with 47% of consumers snacking on what tastes good rather than what’s healthy.  The snacking trend includes foods that bring the restaurant experience home, “minis” (snack-sized versions of favorite indulgent treats), and extreme/unique flavors, such as Kettle Brand Chips that range from Cheddar Beer to Island Jerk.

Other recession-related “pleasure principle” food trends:


  • Comfort foods redefined:  Feel-good foods will be dressed up with more authentic regional recipes, preparations and flavors.  In 2009, chili topped the list of comfort foods appearing on restaurant menus, followed by fried chicken, ribs, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, catfish, waffles, meatloaf, chicken fried steak and pot roast.  Terms like New York-style, Southwestern, Southern-style, Cajun-style, Boston-style and Santa Fe-style were the most frequently used American descriptors on menus.
  • Traditional, ancient and heritage:  Food marketers and restaurateurs are touting traditional recipes and back story-laden “ancient” or “heritage” ingredients, such as ancient grains (quinoa or spelt).
  • Basic scratch ingredients with upscale twist:  Flavored butters, exotic salts, unique forms of rice, preserves infused with wine or herbs, and unique oils, such as pine-flavored Smoked Olive Oil are appealing to cooking enthusiasts. 
  • Party fare:  With nearly half (47%) of consumers having people over at least once a month, it’s not surprising that there’s an explosive demand for foods tysonand beverages that help make entertaining at home easier, fancier and more fun.  New products include party-sized portions for potlucks, church gatherings and book clubs. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor tops the list of alcohol and cocktail trends for 2009.
  • International flair:  With a 78% downturn in foreign vacations anticipated for 2009, U.S. consumers will be relying on more “armchair” culinary travel.  Mexican food, regional Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese and Moroccan top the list of restaurant foods consumers would like to prepare at home.
  • Flavor-driven products:  Among IRI Pacesetters, 83% carried a new or unique variety claim, 69% boasted a new or unique recipe, 51% a new flavor combination and 27% an improved taste claim.  Popular exotic fruit flavors include lychee, dragonfruit and black currant. 

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