image courtesy of Food Mayhem .
The recession marches on.
Unemployment is still too high; consumer spending is still too low. And have you looked at the financial sector lately?
While discretionary spending on groceries and restaurants is down overall, there are some signs of life. Health, convenience, small luxuries, and qualities that can can lead to future savings; these are the features that seem worth opening wallets for.
Up: home-brewed coffee.
We’re dusting off the Mr. Coffee or replacing it with a single-cup brewing system. Even Starbucks got in on the act launching Via Ready Brew instant coffee. When we do go out for coffee, it’s likely to be a 99¢ cup from a fast food outlet. Could $4 lattes be a thing of the past?
The Hormel factory is working overtime. Desperate measures for desperate times? In fact the whole brown-bagging category is going strong: sweet spreads like jam and nut butters; mayonnaise, mustard, and other condiments; and packaged bread and rolls. Inexplicably, tuna fish sales have dropped.
Up: fast food. Down: casual dining.
We’re staying in and cooking. We’re trading down when we do eat out. At the bottom of the dining scale, fast food restaurants are faring well. McDonalds is leading the pack, adding nearly 1,000 outlets, while other chains like Arbys and Subway are undertaking recession expansions of their own. High-end dining is hanging in and upscale fast food (Panera, Chipotle) is experiencing its own boomlet, while the casual dining sector, the Applebees and Macaroni Grills of the world are getting squeezed out of the middle.
Up: convenience cooking.
Canned soups, canned beans, frozen foods; we’re not exactly slow cooking. Budgets dictate that we eat in, so we’re on the lookout for cheap and easy-to-prepare dishes that simulate comfort foods. Campbell Soup Company and Kraft Foods, manufacturer of the ubiquitous blue box of macaroni and cheese, are posting big gains. And in the hunt for shortcuts we are keeping television pitchmen employed, snapping up (it slices, it dices) cooking gadgets.
Up: functional foods. Down: organics.
We’re willing to pay for foods with a little something extra. There are whole foods that qualify as functional foods— we know that oatmeal reduces cholesterol and flax seed controls blood sugar levels— but we would rather pay a premium for foods with health claims right on the package. Yogurt with probiotics, calcium-enriched orange juice, omega-3 enhanced eggs— these products speak loudly to baby boomers who, as a group, are preoccupied with issues of wellness and aging.
Health benefits have not rubbed off on fresh fruits, juices, and vegetables. There is no perceived nutritional advantage favoring fresh produce over processed versions, despite the typically premium price. This is doubly true for the still-pricier organics. After years of steady, double-digit growth, organic produce is expected to hold its ground without winning over new customers for the duration of the recession.
Tupperware is the real success story of the recession. Unemployment has created a workforce ready to push the plastic at home-based parties. Reusable containers are a thriftier option with a lighter carbon footprint than disposables. And leftovers rule.
We’re going to the movies in droves and we love our snacks. Yet $6 candy bars and $8 tubs of popcorn aren’t selling. Maybe we’re bringing our own in all that Tupperware.
Curious how your food budget stacks up? Read on…