Consumers Changing How They Shop During Hard Economic Times

Consumers changing how they shop during hard economic times

The fourth edition of the Power of Meat, a joint study by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute, finds that the recession is being felt throughout the grocery store, and especially in the meat department. Economic woes are affecting where people shop for meat as well as the kind of cut, brand and quantity purchased.
The report, which details the findings of a national online poll of 1,059 consumers conducted in November 2008, was released at the 2009 Annual Meat Conference, March 8-10, 2009, at the Sheraton Denver Hotel, Denver, Colorado. The American Meat Institute (AMI) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) published this consumer research, which was sponsored by Sealed Air's Cryovac Food Packaging Division.

While shoppers are eating out less and cooking more, they are also trading down, substituting and eliminating, resulting in the overall spending amount remaining roughly the same, at $91 per week. While grocery expenses may be relatively unchanged, the way shoppers are spending most certainly is not. The study found that at least half are using coupons whenever possible, buying only what they need and switching from national brands to store brands. Other popular measures include resisting luxury foods and buying items on sale.

When it comes to the meat case, more than half of respondents (51 percent) have also changed their purchasing habits. Popular ways to save money in the meat department include greater preparation before going to the store and a longer selection process when in the store. Sixty-nine percent stock up on meat when it is on sale, and 67 percent purchase less expensive cuts either frequently or every time they shop. Others cook more casseroles or pasta dishes to make the quantity go a little further or simply buy and cook meat and poultry less often.

Meat sales promotions greatly influence the type of meat purchased as well as the quantity. Up by seven percentage points from 2007, 58 percent of shoppers now purchase meat in large quantities to portion up, freeze and use over time. They are also less brand-sensitive, both for fresh and processed meat, in their quest to save money. Shoppers preferring national brand processed meats, for example, dropped from 37 percent in 2008 to 29 percent in 2009.

Despite the economic difficulties, meat continues to be a staple at American dinner tables. According to the study, the average family has five dinners at home per week, with an average of 3.9 of these meals including a meat item, down from 4.2 last year. Chicken and beef are the top meat choices.

This year's study found that despite economic difficulties, health and well-being are still highly valued and food plays a major role. Almost two-thirds of shoppers put some (46 percent) or a lot (20 percent) of effort into eating healthfully, but the rate of success is much lower. Despite best intentions to eat better, 51 percent say they succeed in doing so less than half the time. In fact, 13 percent say they never manage to eat a healthy diet. As part of shoppers' healthy-eating strategies, they are most likely to cut back on portion sizes or second helpings, followed by eating fish or seafood more regularly.

For more information and to view the full study results, visit