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Consumer survey notes food price concerns

farmers market fresh produce
National survey shows consumers pulling back in willingness to spend and possibly in meat purchases.


Food prices, affordability and the economic issues dominated consumer concerns in the latest monthly Food Demand Survey by Oklahoma State University.

This monthly survey of at least 1,000 consumers across the nation tries to measure core concerns about foods, including pricing. It specifically looks at meat demand, too.

In the April report, researchers said consumers' willingness to pay decreased for all food products. This includes a wide variety of products, from steak to chicken wings, to deli ham, to rice and beans, to pasta. The greatest percentage decrease from one month ago was for hamburger, down 9.5%. Compared with attitudes one year ago, willingness to pay was lower for all meat products.

Consumers reported their expenditures on food eaten at home decreased slightly from March to April. They also said they expect to see higher prices for beef, chicken and pork.

Interestingly, their April expenditures on food purchased away from home increased 5.42% relative to the previous month. Plans for eating out remained virtually unchanged compared with March, while plans to buy chicken, beef, and pork all slightly fell.

Perhaps more important, they plan to buy less beef and less pork, but more chicken. This is not stated in the survey, but historically this is a price-driven decision. Together with expectations for rising prices, that implies consumers expect their expendable income to drop rather than increase. This matches the recent drop in consumer confidence in the University of Michigan consumer confidence survey.

The survey makes it clear that taste, safety, and price -- in that order -- remained consumers’ stated most important values when purchasing food last month. However, they named affordability as their main challenge.

The researchers said this was similar to previous months, when consumers also reported their main challenge was "finding affordable foods that fit within my budget."

"Finding foods my children will eat" was the consumer challenge experiencing the largest percentage increase in April.

As for consumer notice of and concern about issues commonly in the news, GMO’s, E. coli, and Salmonella remained the most visible issues over the past two weeks. The largest percent increase in awareness over the previous month was for cloning. Among the most visible issues, the largest percent decrease from March to April was for Salmonella. Salmonella, E. coli, and hormones were ranked as the top three concerns in April.

The largest percentage increases in concern were for pink slime and GMOs. The largest percentage decrease in concern was for BSE.

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