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Economic Concerns Shaping How Consumers Shop, Cook, and Dine: FMI Report

Higher fuel and food costs and other economic pressures are having a pervasive impact on how consumers shop, cook, and dine, according to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) "U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2008" report, released yesterday at the FMI Show in Las Vegas.

Economic concerns are compelling Americans to cook at home more and eat less often at restaurants (71 percent), the report finds. In fact, families eat their main meal at restaurants only 1.2 times per week, down from 1.3 in 2007 and 1.5 in 2006.

Not surprisingly, consumers are buying fewer luxury foods (67 percent) but more store-brand items (60 percent) and eating more leftovers (58 percent). The high cost of fuel is contributing to the decline in the number of shopping trips -- below two per week for the second straight year at, 1.9.

When deciding where to shop, 37 percent of consumers cite "low prices" as the overriding factor -- up from 31 percent in 2007 and well ahead of the second most often cited factor (convenient location at 13 percent).

"Food retailers can turn these economic challenges into benefits for consumers and the industry," said FMI president and c.e.o. Tim Hammonds in a statement. "As people eat out less often, we can help revive the great American home family meal tradition. This presents retailers an opportunity to win back a share of the mealtime market long owned by restaurants, and it provides American families important health, economic, and social benefits."

Consumers equate eating at home with eating healthier, the FMI report finds. As many as 91 percent say they eat healthier when dining at home. This number includes 39 percent who believe home-cooked food is "much healthier."

The report also found that consumer confidence in the safety of food bought at supermarkets rebounded to 81 percent, from the 18-year low of 66 percent last year. Their confidence is fragile, however: Only 11 percent are "completely confident," down from 15 percent in 2007, and 70 percent are "somewhat confident." Consumer confidence in the safety of restaurant food increased to 65 percent, from 43 percent in 2007.

Nutrition is very much on the minds of shoppers, with 41 percent "very concerned" about the nutritional content of the foods they eat, and 47 percent "somewhat concerned." At the same time, many continue to fall short in acting on these anxieties: 62 percent of consumers believe their diets could be healthier, including 12 percent who describe the room for improvement as "a lot."

The shoppers most likely to say their diet needs significant improvement include:

-- Baby boomers (68 percent), especially men (75 percent).

-- Shoppers earning $75,000-$100,000 (70 percent).

-- Consumers age 25-39 (69 percent).

-- Parents with older children (69 percent).

Supermarkets are responding to consumer health needs with products and services. For example, 82 percent of stores now feature natural or organic foods, up from 80 percent last year and 72 percent in 2006. In fact, nearly 60 percent of food retailers feature store-brand organic foods, according to FMI's "The Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2008" report. Health clinics are now featured in 9 percent of stores, and 5 percent have a dietitian on hand to provide consumers nutritional guidance.
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