Apr 25, 2022 - Economy

Food buying habits are evolving in the face of inflation

Illustration of a piece of tiny meat in a large styrofoam package.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Rising food prices are slowly changing our grocery store shopping habits, already kind of weird after the pandemic pushed more Americans to eat at home, industry analysts tell Axios.

Why it matters: High inflation is rippling out into all kinds of markets — from nickel to housing to stocks to supers (supermarkets that is) — and changing the way we live.

State of play: Some folks are swapping different types of meat, as those prices climb. The cost of beef is up 20% over last year and chicken is up 13%, according to the latest Consumer Price Index report.

  • One of my Twitter followers told me she's butchering whole chickens instead of picking up her usual pack of thighs, to save money.
  • More broadly, people are just buying smaller packs of meat, said Joan Driggs, vice president of content at IRI, a market research firm. "If you watch the meat case, [shoppers] will rifle through some of those packs until they find the lowest price."
  • You're also starting to see shrinkflation — where companies are keeping prices the same, but selling you less of whatever is inside, cereal or ice cream or whatever, to compensate.

What we're watching: So far, our spending on food isn't increasing at the same rate as inflation. Household spending on groceries was up 4% on average in April, according to an April market report from FMI, the food industry association. It's a sign that shoppers are figuring out ways to keep costs under control.

  • "Consumers are really adept and they're nimble when it comes to their spending habits," said Heather Garlich, senior vice president of communications at FMI.
  • Shoppers with incomes of less than $40,000 aren't buying as much fresh meat and seafood, according to the report. They're turning to frozen meat or canned stuff instead — and buying more store brands.
  • It's these lower-income shoppers who are most at-risk as food prices rise in the U.S.

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