Not leftovers again, honey

With food prices increasing at the fastest pace in 17 years and gas prices soaring, a new study “How Do Economically Challenging Times Affect In-Home Meal Strategies” from Rosemont, Ill.-based The NPD Group, finds concerned consumers looking for value, making trade-offs and counting on leftovers when planning their meals. One-third of adults feel their financial situation is worse this year than last, and those most concerned have larger families. Among these “financially concerned” adults, more than 55 percent say they are trying to prepare meals at home, use up leftovers (56 percent), stock up when items are on sale (54 percent), more often then a year ago. “American consumers now spend about 10 percent of their disposable income on food and have not, historically, allowed food expenses to rise faster than their disposable income,” says Harry Balzer, vice president. “Consumers will likely shift behaviors to find food solutions that meet a budget before spending more on the same foods.” Another strategy consumers use to manage their spending on food is to change where they get meals and snacks. In past economic downturns, they counted more on supermarkets and meals at home and pulled back on going to restaurants. In fact, last year 80 percent of meals and snacks were consumed at-home vs. 20 percent at restaurants, which posted no organic growth in 2007. “Despite rising grocery prices, in-home meals still provide a better value to consumers,” says Arnie Schwartz, who heads up The NPD Group’s food and beverage unit. “One estimate shows that an in-home meal costs about a third of a meal purchased away from home.” Price doesn’t appear to be the only motivation for consumers to eat more meals at home, according to the study. Consumers still say that eating healthy is another reason to prepare their own meals. “Consumers say that price, health and convenience appear to be the key drivers when it comes to food consumption,” says Schwartz. “Health and convenience are longer-term factors that aren’t dictated by the economy, and are consistently top-of-mind with people.” Mom is staying home “One of the pillars of change affecting the way people eat over the last five decades has been the increase of women in the workforce,” says Balzer. “We haven’t seen those increases in women working recently and that too is influencing the choice of where people eat.” And he adds, “For the food industry, it really comes down to the basics of listening to and addressing the contemporary needs of the consumers.”