Customer browsing a food stall with lots of different vegetables

SHOPPING AROUND: How food insecurity affects consumer behavior

by | Sep 21, 2023 | Insights



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.



The 3rd Eye

Content Writer

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