Inflation is forcing Americans to change their diet

Inflation is changing how and what people eat.

More than half of consumers say they have changed their eating and drinking habits to cope with the rising cost of living, according to a new survey by global news service Morning Consult.

Reducing visits to restaurants and bars is the most common change, accounting for about eight in 10 people. About 72% of people who said they changed their shopping habits said they reduced their meat purchases, according to Morning Consult.

Among those who said they had changed their eating habits, nearly half said they were buying more pre-packaged or frozen foods to mitigate the higher cost, and more than half said they had stopped buying organic to buy.

Consumers typically cut restaurant spending in response to high inflation, but as financial pressures mount, they are also changing their supermarket habits, said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at The NPD Group.

US inflation hit a 40-year high in May, with prices up 8.6% year-on-year, according to the latest CPI. Buyers who would have paid 2021 prices would have gotten 43% fewer eggs than at the same time a year ago and 15% fewer oranges, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During tough economic times, consumers start cutting back — switching to private label or generic drugs that are cheaper than well-known brands, buying smaller sizes, and buying chicken instead of beef, Seifer said. He said they are also making more use of coupons and deals.

Analysts said that lower-income consumers are most likely to swap for cheaper items because they spend more of their budgets on groceries and energy and feel the impact of rising costs on those items. At the same time, rising prices have also hurt middle-income consumers as the big retailers, where they are likely to shop, have hiked prices.

“It’s important to remember that the overall effect of inflation on diet quality depends on how severely families are affected by inflation and how they are coping with it,” said Kassandra Martinchek, a researcher at the Center on Labour, Human Services, and Population Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC.

Unfortunately, previous research has shown that families cope with rising prices in ways that increase their food insecurity and decrease their food intake, Martinchek said. Some people simply reduce their food intake, while others move on to cheaper options like beans.

informed Martinchek Transcript from their research in Arlington County, Virginia, conducted in early 2022.

“One mother of two reported, ‘Sometimes there isn’t much money. Like meat – you now know how much it has risen in price. That’s why we sometimes don’t buy meat. Instead, we’re making vegetable soup,’” Martinchek told MarketWatch.

More lower-income families could face food insecurity this summer, Martinchek said. Numerous government aid programs, like the pandemic-era Universal School Meals program, will soon end.

She also said the annually adjusted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (also called food stamps) may not be able to keep up with inflation enough to meet the needs of many financially strapped families.

Every year in October, the government adjusts the level of services and prices based on June inflation data, She said. But the rapid rise in inflation could result in insufficient adjustment, she said.

The continued rise in food prices will be particularly felt by low-income families who rely on government programs to boost their grocery budgets. As a result, according to Martinchek, they have “fewer points of contact”. Inflation is forcing Americans to change their diet

Brian Lowry

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