Food Sentiments Mirror Spending Ability: Report

New research from Purdue University also shows food-at-home outlay still rising
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
a woman smiling for the camera
Consumers' food satisfaction correlates with their income, a recent survey affirms.

Notable gaps remain in consumers’ food satisfaction and spending, according to recent research from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

A survey fielded in July by Purdue’s Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability (CFDAS) found that 75% of U.S. consumers report that their food satisfaction is thriving. Consumers who say they are satisfied with their food consumption also spend the lowest share of their income on food.

[Read more: “What Food Trends Are Resonating in Mid-2023?”]

At the same time, a portion of the population reported that they are suffering or struggling with food satisfaction. Accordingly, the most unsatisfied consumers tend to place the most value on food affordability, underscoring the notion that buying power is tied with food satisfaction.

On that note, the survey indicated that food insecurity is down from June, but still higher than the average in 2022. In the still-uncertain economic climate and following years of cooking at home, Purdue’s team also found that food-at-home spending last month was 4.6% higher than July 2022.

Behaviors among satisfied versus non-satisfied groups vary in other ways that impact food brands and grocers, the researchers added. “Consumers who report that they are thriving are more often than not checking the nutrition label on a new product before they buy it, while those who are suffering are only sometimes or rarely checking nutrition labels,” said Joseph Balagtas, CFDAS director and a professor of agriculture economics at Purdue. “This gap also relates to consumption choices that are typically thought of as more sustainable or ethical, such as choosing local foods or grass-fed beef.”

Sam Polzin, co-author of the report and a food and ag survey scientist for the CFDAS, said that the survey results reflect consumers’ balance of wariness and willingness to spend on meals prepared at home, depending on their circumstances. “With food-at-home spending continuing to drive up total food spending at the same time that consumers predict annual food inflation will drop below 4%, we could continue to describe consumers as cautiously optimistic,” he remarked. “However, it seems that the government measure of food inflation is now dropping faster than consumer expectations for inflation, which signals that consumers are potentially becoming more accustomed to higher inflation.”

Customers are adjusting to inflation at varying degrees based on their satisfaction and pending levels, Polzin noted. “Consumers we describe as struggling have faced both higher and more variable insecurity. But this group of consumers is relatively smaller, so changes in their ability to purchase food are more likely to show up as larger swings in our sample,” he pointed out.

The July survey also gauged consumer sentiments on the specific category of plant-based meats. Although respondents rated plant-based alternatives better than beef from the standpoint of animal welfare, they are not yet embracing these products as full substitute. “The biggest takeaway from our alternative meat questions is that consumers still overwhelmingly prefer beef from cattle across a wide range of product attributes,” Balagtas reported. “This result reinforces the fact that plant-based meat remains a niche product.”

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