Consumers Spending Less on Wellness, More on Consumer Electronics

Sept. 30, 2008
Consumers spending less on wellness, more on consumer electronics.

What has the recession wrought? Nearly half (44 percent) of U.S adults report their diets are becoming less healthy as food prices rise, 52 percent buy fewer organic products and 48 percent spend less on health and wellness overall, according to a new study from Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve (, New York cultural trend tracking firm.

Sonar surveyed 1,011 consumers online (50 percent men and 50 percent women over 21 years of age) between May 29 and June 6 for BrainReserve's “Culture of the Recession” survey. BrainReserve then analyzed the results against 17 cultural trends that it regularly monitors, reports Marketing Daily.

As other recent surveys indicate, Americans are cutting back on everything from food and beverages to out-of-home eating/entertainment to day care. Two-thirds (66 percent) are cutting back on overall spending, while 84 percent are making changes such as reducing shopping trips. Fully 90 percent of women and 79 percent of men (84 percent overall) are “buying less stuff,” and 90 percent are considering opting for a simpler life.

The only category bucking the “less is more” trend is consumer electronics (43 percent), including flat-screen TVs and video games, as consumers become even more entrenched in cocooning to save money.

“The overwhelming reaction is to pare down, to simplify”-- an intensification of BrainReserve's “cashing out” cultural trend, says Popcorn. “Price increases have a straight-line impact on spending, and we're treading in lethal waters as the costs of basics jump 10, 15 or 20 percent. There's very little that's safe in commerce today, beyond value channels and value brands in staple categories.”

Beverages are a good example. Seventy percent of respondents say if soda, juice and bottled water prices increase 20 percent, they will reduce their purchases, 58 percent will switch to private-label brands and 36 percent will eliminate the category completely. A 20 percent price hike for milk would force 44 percent to cut back, and 25 percent would stop buying milk if the price rises 22 percent.

Other findings include: 42 percent gave up some of their favorite brands between last December and this May; 50 percent buy more private-label products, and 24 percent now purchase private-label brands virtually every time they shop (compared to 19 percent in 2007 and 17 percent in 2006); 47 percent expect to reduce home help and day care, and 61 percent are seeking overtime to make ends meet. Meanwhile, 86 percent worry that health insurance will become unaffordable, 69 percent worry that government will cut back on education spending, and 55 percent fear they will outlive their money.

Cynicism about corporations and government is the mantra among respondents. Three out of five don't think the U.S. is headed in the right direction, and about the same numbers believe the economy is headed in the wrong direction and that major corporations can't be trusted. Most (70 percent) also think that the current financial crisis is due to “pure corporate and individual greed,” as opposed to a fundamental weakness in our economic system. Most think government will cut back on food, water, energy and pollution policies and regulations, and give corporations “a free pass” in order to reduce costs.

Half (53 percent) say they evaluate companies on their ethics before purchasing products, and 65 percent consider company ethics before investing. On an upnote, 65 percent believe we'll come through these hard times. And belief in the individual's ability to make a difference seems to be getting stronger, as 71 percent say they believe our individual actions -- as opposed to institutional behavior -- will improve society.

Of course, there are always some “eat, drink and be merry” types--the group BrainReserve describes as being out for “pleasure revenge.” A third (35 percent) believes uncertain times are a reason to “cut loose” and worry about consequences later; 17 percent are is drinking and/or smoking more; and 19 percent are having more sex.

Finally, it’s notable that 74 percent of respondents believe it's never been more important to vote than in this general election … but 54 percent don't think the election will change anything.

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