Customer browsing a food stall with lots of different vegetables

SHOPPING AROUND: How food insecurity affects consumer behavior

by | Sep 21, 2023 | Insights

15 MIN READ

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Food insecurity refers to a lack of consistent and reliable access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food for a significant portion of the population.

A complex social issue and widespread problem, food insecurity affects the most poverty-stricken of the US populations — but it doesn’t stop there. It reaches middle class families and small businesses, and it influences consumer behavior in the food industry.

At T3E, whether it’s collaborating with Feeding South Florida or serving Medicare patients, we aim to help combat food insecurity. And if you’re a health and wellness brand, then you need to understand how food insecurity can impact your target consumer.

 

Food Shopping Behavior Has Changed

According to new data from Attest, today’s consumers are no longer sticking to food choices from just one grocery store. They’re changing it up depending on what’s available where, and how expensive it is.


“Two-thirds of Americans (67%) shop at two to three stores for groceries, as opposed to 27% who shop at one.”


The amount of Americans who are shopping around suggests that food insecurity — to smaller extents — is spreading to households and families that once never would have been at risk. Increasing food options seem to have forced many to explore their options.

At one point, access to multiple grocery stores may have suggested that a consumer was not experiencing food insecurity. But today the definition of food insecurity is broadening. How exactly? Let’s get into it.

 

The Impact of Food Insecurity

Graph indicating the percentages of affording food

Traditionally, we associate food-insecure families with shopping at convenience stores, buying overly processed foods, and buying in bulk. We consider families who live in food deserts; we think of those who struggle finding transportation to the nearest Walmart 30 minutes away. This is the dark underbelly of food insecurity in the US, and problems like these impact more families every day.

But what about slower, less egregious forms of food insecurity? What about the retired schoolteacher who, despite meticulous budgeting and a “reasonable” pension, needs to shop at three grocery stores to make rent? How about those who don’t live in food deserts, work two service jobs, and simply don’t have the time to cook — yet they can’t eat out because it’s too expensive?

As Hunger Action comes to an end, we’re reminded of every form of food insecurity. We fight against the most pressing, egregious forms first. But that doesn’t mean we don’t come up with solutions for the retired schoolteacher or overworked bartender.

Health & wellness brands — especially in the food and beverage industries — should employ marketing strategies that take current economic factors and their impact on food consumption behavior into account.

 

We’re eating out less

As food and beverage prices continue to surge in the U.S., Attest observed a second shift in eating habits. We’re eating out less. According to Attest, most Americans (39%) eat out 1-3 times a month and 22.8% eat out less than once a month. Only 13% can afford to eat out 3-7 days a week.

More consumers eating at home means more cooking; and Attest also revealed that “that inspiration has shifted to websites and applications (36%) and social media (28%).” This lines up with THE 3RD EYE’s recent finding that Google search, word of mouth, and social media are the main influencers of health and wellness decisions in adults under 45 (Defining Health & Wellness, And The Barriers to Change).

Graph showing percentages of choices made from different sources

What does this mean for health and wellness brands?

Food and beverage brands and retailers must adapt to these changing consumer needs by offering more affordable options and exploring innovative strategies to attract customers in this challenging economic climate.

For example, THE 3RD EYE put together a healthy living campaign targeting seniors for one of our clients. We produced a cooking segment that guided our audience through simple, inexpensive, nutrient-packed recipes. With 2 charismatic seniors at the forefront, it encouraged the client’s patients to have fun with healthy food.

If the consumer is cooking at home and searching for recipes online, provide them. Use digital channels to learn the priorities of your target audience. How can you help them meal prep or budget for groceries with more ease?

Despite being impacted by higher costs, the average consumer in the U.S still cares about health and sustainable food consumption more than ever before. According to ScienceDirect, “discerning eating behaviors are part of an emerging lifestyle that is centered around consciousness, mindfulness, and responsibility.”

Does this apply to your audience? If it does, help them discover nutrient-dense recipes that don’t break the bank! Or provide tips on reducing food waste while meal prepping.

Consumers eating out less doesn’t mean we can’t reach them. However, we need to empathize with our audience to serve their needs.

If 50.4% of shoppers have some difficulty affording food, then let’s be a part of the solution. By actively listening to our target audience, health and wellness brands that continuously innovate can make a positive impact.

 

Key Takeaways

1. Resources and cost are essential. Ensure your products are accessible and affordable enough for families to receive the nutrition they need.

2. Own the conversation around how to bring your product to the table. Provide recipes, alternatives, and nutritious recommendations online for your consumers.

3. Continue to find ways to support local food banks and organizations aimed at helping to address these issues, Like Feeding South Florida.

 


 

RESEARCH

Rather than shopping at one grocery store or supermarket, consumers are shopping around, according to new data from Attest. A survey found that 40% of Americans shop for groceries once a week, while 29% go two to three times a week.

  • Two-thirds of Americans (67%) shop at two to three stores for groceries, as opposed to 27% who shop at one.
    A plurality of Americans (39%) eat out one to three times a month, and 22.8% do so less than once a month, while only 13% say they can afford to eat out three to seven days a week.
  • “[Food and beverage] brands and retailers must continue to adapt to real consumer needs imposed by macroeconomic conditions,” Attest founder and CEO Jeremy King said in a statement. “It’s likely that the outlook will remain challenging for months to come, with the certainty that F&B consumption is in a state of transition and the possibility that some of these new consumer behaviors will become permanent.”

 

Meanwhile, how consumers cook their meals is evolving as prices continue to rise. Although the microwave is the most common appliance found in homes at 85%, 58% said they also have an air fryer.

  • Attest also found that cookbooks are “virtually dead,” with only 11% of those surveyed saying they use them to find recipes. That inspiration has shifted to websites and applications (36%) and social media (28%); friends and family still clock in at 21%.

 


 

SERP

  • Consumer Buying Behavior That Will Drive the Food Retail Industry in 2022 – Hillphoenix – Consumer buying behavior in the food retail industry has been drastically altered over the past few years in more ways than one. Navigating the food retail landscape this year will be a challenging fe… (hillphoenix.com)
    • The Rise of Gen Z people who are born between 1997 and 2012, will deeply affect how businesses develop their strategies moving forward, especially in the food retail sector. As Gen Z’s come into adulthood carrying their core characteristics with them, such as being environmentally conscious and intelligent buyers, they are more likely to support brands that are aligned with their values. Gen Z pay close attention to brands and companies that are sustainable, have a good impact on the environment and society, and offer products that add value to their life overall.
      – Source: hillphoenix.com
    • Digital Revolution Out of all the many trends that we have witnessed over the past years that disrupted the industry, the application of technology in food retail remains prevalent in shaping the grocery space and affecting consumer buying behavior in 2022. As consumers grow accustomed to an omnichannel shopping experience, technological innovations, such as seamless online shopping and ultra-fast delivery, will influence consumer purchases. Likewise, due to the persisting labor crisis in food retail (and elsewhere), grocers are investing in robotics, cashier-less checkout counters, and automated fulfillment centers to help alleviate the workforce shortfall.
      – Source: hillphoenix.com
    • Foods with a Purpose Conscious eating still greatly affects buying behaviors among consumers this year. Eating healthy meals, functional foods and beverages, and foods that bring enjoyment after a stressful and anxiety-filled two years of the pandemic, will capture consumer interests. Consumers are willing to pay a few more dollars for foods and beverages that have the purpose of boosting mental health, relaxation, and reducing stress.
      – Source: hillphoenix.com

 

  • The impact of consumer behaviour on the future of food production. | Kadence – Discover how clean eating and other new healthy trends affect food production and brands. (kadence.com)
    • In 2022, the global health and wellness food market was valued at USD 841 billion and is projected to increase to one trillion U.S. dollars by 2026.
      – Source: kadence.com
    • Health and wellness factor heavily in purchasing decisions, and food production brands adapt to the trend. Protein-rich foods and superfoods with high antioxidant values are foods that more health-conscious consumers prefer today.
      – Source: kadence.com

 

  • Meaning of food and consumer eating behaviors – ScienceDirect – Prior research suggests that food is embedded in a system of meanings. Yet, little is known about how the different meanings people attribute to food … (sciencedirect.com)
    • Results of a nationally representative survey provide evidence that the meanings of food (sacred, moral, health, social, and aesthetic) as identified by Arbit et al. (2017) predict a wide range of consumption patterns associated with eating behaviors. First, we found that health-conscious behaviors are more strongly predicted by the social and moral meanings of food rather than the health meaning of food. This finding is in line with prior research demonstrating that eating behavior is to a large extent shaped by social factors (Cruwys, Bevelander, & Hermans, 2015). This finding is also consistent with research showing that people make inferences about the moral qualities of themselves and others based on the food they consume (Stein & Nemeroff, 1995). Apparently, people moralize healthy food consumption and this moralization – combined with self-presentation concerns – seems to drive healthy food consumption even more than the health meaning of food.
      – Source: sciencedirect.com
    • Second, discerning eating behaviors – which include buying organic products, shopping at small stores or local markets, avoiding meat products, and prioritizing quality over quantity – regardless of how conspicuous or superficially “trendy” they might seem, are actually driven by one of the most symbolic meanings of food, namely moral. These results hint at the possibility that these eating behaviors are part of an emerging lifestyle that is centered around consciousness, mindfulness, and responsibility.
      – Source: sciencedirect.com
    • Third, our study identified predictors of indulgent eating behaviors as well: besides lower scores on the health meaning, it was predicted by higher scores on the aesthetic meaning of food, suggesting that seeing food as a source of aesthetic pleasure might drive poor nutrition (e.g., junk food consumption, consuming ready-made meals often) and unhealthy eating habits (e.g., eating on the go, overeating) – very much in line with the “unhealthy = tasty” intuition (Haasova & Florack, 2019). Although the aesthetic meaning of food (which concerns a view of food as a work of art) might seem incompatible with the aesthetic value of junk or convenient food, endorsement of the aesthetic meaning of food indicates an unapologetic appreciation of palatable food even in its most humble or frowned upon forms, devoid of any taste snobbery. This is best reflected in the phrase “guilty pleasure” used in everyday language to acknowledge that harmful foods can provide pleasure.
      – Source: sciencedirect.com

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