Quality, Price, Nutrition: What’s Most Important to Consumers When Purchasing Food?

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It seems that researchers are always finding new ways to study the same things over and over, with results that end up wildly contradictory.  Take coffee, for example.  It seems that hardly a month goes by without some new report that either hails coffee as beneficial or damns it as a potential killer. One study touts its health effects, which is then refuted by an opposing study that links it to cancer, heart disease or irritable bowel syndrome.  Research studies, such as those done on coffee, may be conducted by objective third parties, or they may be underwritten by coffee producers or distributors, who are trying to find another way to market their product.  It can be dizzying trying to figure out whom to believe.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think studies are an essential component of the American consumer’s “right to know” and an important part of the decision-making process, but individual research results should not be considered the “be all, end all” criteria when making choices.

New Report Indicates Nutrition and Quality are a Top Concern

All this leads to yet another study about food preferences.  According to the Braun Research Group, nutritional content and food quality are the most important concerns for American consumers, despite job layoffs and the poor and uncertain economy.   Although prior research revealed Americans were turning to cheaper and more affordable “comfort food” as well as generic and store brands, these latest findings, based on telephone interviews with 4,000 shoppers across the United States, now say something different.

This study, commissioned by IBM, says that even in tough times, quality trumps price, with almost 75 percent of respondents citing more concern for quality rather than price.  Almost 70 percent felt nutrition is the most important consideration when shopping for food.

This all sounds great and very sensible, but what about those folks who are stocking up on boxed macaroni and cheese?

Value Still Matters

Well, apparently, value still matters.  Almost half surveyed say they look for the best deal.  A third say they changed their shopping habits to try to save money.   And 52 percent aren’t stocking up on food items anymore, spending only on their immediate needs.

“Consumer are reducing spending in certain store aisles but maintaining or even increasing spending in others as they put a lot more thought into the brands they purchase and the type of products they need,” said Guy Blissett, consumer products leader for IBM Institute for Business Value, in a press release.

When asked what product they’d most likely splurge an extra $10 for, the top choice was dessert foods.

Looking at the long term, researchers found that 60 percent of consumers expect that they will continue shopping around for the best deals when the recession ends, but 90 percent indicate that nutrition will be of equal or greater importance in food shopping.

Third Quarter Financials Show a Different Trend

And if all this isn’t confusing enough, third quarter financial reports released by major corporations last week indicate that Americans are foregoing “value” in favor of “cheap,” with stores like Family Dollar showing double-digit rises in profits as they expand their food items in response to middle-income consumers looking for bargains.  And major food chains are reporting correspondingly large losses as more people are cooking at home.

So the bottom line here is … well, what IS the bottom line?

It all depends on which survey you wish to believe and which one you most identify with.  Surveys are interesting, valuable and can contain life-altering information.

My personal advice is to take what you can use and discard the rest.

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