What recession? A girl’s got to eat.

photo courtesy of triplepundit.com

 

The economy might be slowing, but not our appetites.
We’re not eating any less, but we have made budget-driven adjustments to what we eat, how we shop, and where we are having our meals. Most of us are eating out less, more often choosing to cook and entertain at home. We still seek variety in our food and dining choices but more often find it in our purchases of prepared foods and specialty grocery items.

While we are allowing ourselves some small indulgences, the recession has given new life to grocers’ most basic offerings; those unsexy canned, jarred, and packaged staples found in the middle aisles of the supermarket that form the basis of inexpensive family meals.

Taking the “Fancy” out of Fancy Foods
Specialty foods used to be synonymous with gourmet. It meant exotic and pricey, preferably imported from France. Think escargots and Roquefort. Today it’s more likely to be organic butter and heirloom tomatoes. We are abandoning traditional luxury foods like truffles and caviar and choosing to pay for quality associated with the care and attention of small batch production of even the most humble of ingredients. Cheeses are artisanal rather than imported. Pastured chuck roast commands a higher price than conventionally-farmed tenderloins.

Drinking Up; Drinking Down
Wine consumption continues to rise, as it has for fifteen straight years, but sales have been dropping precipitously as we trade down to more domestic wines and lower-priced imports. Modest indulgences like specialty sodas and teas, where the price at the upper end represents a fairly small jump from their conventional counterparts, are fairing well in the current economic environment. And while beer sales are slumping overall, the craft beer category from micro-producers is soaring.

Rolling Past the Perimeter
While we are allowing ourselves some small indulgences, the recession has given new life to grocers’ most basic offerings; those unsexy canned, jarred, and packaged staples found in the middle aisles of the supermarket that form the basis of inexpensive family meals. We’ve rediscovered the bulk foods aisle, store coupons, and most of all, private label store brands.

What the Kids are Up To
The Gen Y 20-somethings are entering the workforce and becoming consumers in their own right and doing it their own way. They have grown up with global influences that have broadened their palates and blurred distinctions between mainstream and specialty foods. And unlike their elders, this first “Starbucks generation,” doesn’t flinch at paying four dollars for a specialty coffee drink. Small luxuries like lattes are to them an everyday experience. They seem unfazed by current economic woes as they continue to be the top consumers of premium chocolates, fancy chips and crackers, and quick-cook items that require limited cooking skills.

The Chocolate Cure
There can be unhealthy side effects to this economic downturn. People drop their health club memberships to economize and eat cheap, filling, but less healthy foods. Chips, donuts ,and peanut butter have all seen sales spikes in recent months. Fast food chains have seen their sales buoyed by the recession. A new phrase, recession obesity, was recently coined to describe this phenomenon. The best antidote is to buy chocolate— the finest most outrageously expensive chocolate you can find. It costs too much to do too much harm, but you’ll still feel completely indulged.


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