Americans Are Skipping Meals Due to Financial Reasons: Study

Quarterly report from dunnhumby details consumer trends
Emily Crowe
Multimedia Editor
Shopper in Parking Lot Main Image
American consumers are increasingly skipping meals due to financial concerns.

Customer data science firm dunnhumby has unearthed somewhat troubling news about today’s consumers: 36% of U.S. families have skipped meals due to financial reasons over the past year. The news comes as part of the fourth wave of dunnhumby’s Consumer Trends Tracker, a quarterly study that also found that 18 to 34 year olds and 35 to 44 year olds have the highest rate of skipping meals among all age groups, at 38% and 37% respectively.

The quarterly study is based on online surveys of about 2,000 consumers, representative of the U.S. grocery shopper nationwide. The fourth wave of surveys took place in April of this year, and also found that 62% of Americans would have a hard time paying an unexpected expense of $400, with that percentage rising to 72% for families.

[Read more: "Save A Lot, Food 4 Less, Dollar General Top Retailers for SNAP Customers"]

“Over this year-long study, we have seen a very troubling trend of nearly a third of all Americans and nearly 40% of younger Americans, skipping meals due to financial concerns,” said Matt O’Grady, president of Americas for dunnhumby. “And wave after wave, our research has also shown that 18- to 44-year-olds are at the epicenter of a food and financial insecurity crisis that shows no signs of abating.” 

Continued O’Grady: “Unfortunately, the reduction in SNAP benefits, and the stubbornness of center store prices, there doesn’t appear to be relief in the short term for many Americans, especially those who are already food and financially insecure.”

Additional findings from the study include:

  • Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and West Virginia continue to stand out for having the highest rate of food (36%) and financial insecurity (70%) in the country. 
  • Americans are not yet feeling relief from the drop in the food-at-home inflation rate and believe it is 15 points higher than the actual 7.1% annual rate as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
  • More consumers are looking for deals, with 40% reporting they are shopping at different stores to find the best value, a 9% increase year over year. 
  • Consumers are most willing to shop around for non-alcoholic beverages (60%), packaged foods (55%) and frozen food (54%). 
  • Consumers have steadily increased their usage of omnichannel resources over the last year to optimize their grocery shopping and save money. 
  • Some 80% of consumers use at least one grocery rewards program with 20% being light users, 44% are medium users and 16% are heavy users. 
  • Over half of customers (53%) report social media sites have influenced their grocery purchases in-store or online. Families with children at home (75%) and households heavily engaged with loyalty programs (68%) are two groups even more likely to be influenced by social media, especially Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

According to O’Grady, consumers that have changed their shopping behavior over the past year, especially those who are cross-shopping stores for the best prices and those that are increasing their omnichannel behavior, are creating opportunities for retailers and brands to engage with them in a more personalized way.

“Those that are able to understand the different needs of their customers and then deliver to them tailored content and offers that provide real value, will be able to drive customer loyalty in a very competitive environment,” said O’Grady.

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