How Consumers Can Cope with Growing Food Prices

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The current economy is putting a strain on everybody’s pocketbook and food is no exception. You don’t need to watch the evening news to know that food prices are rising faster than the average; just walk down the supermarket aisle.

John Stanton, Ph.D., chair of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, offers ten things you can do to reduce the cost of your food bill while still eating well and not taking too much time.

1. Plan your meals and stick to your shopping list Consumers who use a shopping list save two ways. First, it keeps them focused on what they do need. Second, they don’t make as many trips to the store (gasoline prices are going up faster than food prices).

2. Use the supermarket’s online planning tools Most supermarket chains have online meal planning guides. This tool offers consumers the ability to search recipes, and subsequently, the related ingredients. This reduces “over-purchasing,” saving time and money.

3. Clip coupons and use loyalty cards Consumers have overlooked this “free money” in the past (less than one percent are redeemed), but clipping can lead to big savings. Use the Internet to find manufacturer coupons on your most frequently purchased items or go to for additional savings. And to ensure your getting the best prices, sign up for loyalty cards at every store where you shop. These cards are essentially electronic coupons.

4. Trade down You don’t need to stop buying meat. You can purchase a less expensive cut of beef, chicken or pork. For example, an eye roast costs as little as $1.99/ lb on sale at a Philadelphia supermarket while a T-bone steak costs $5.99. Slow cookers are also an efficient resource for meal preparation in this economy because they’re great at cooking the less expensive cuts like short ribs, brisket or chuck.

5. Buy retail store brands (private label) Today, most of the major supermarkets offer some of the finest foods available under their own brands. In days past, store brands were considered the “cheap” brand, but over the past 15 years, store brands are of equal quality as the brand products at a lower price.

6. Take your lunch to work You can save quite a bit by packing your lunch just one day a week.  If possible use “planned overs,” food from meals that you had intentionally made with enough for a lunch.  For example, have meat loaf for dinner and the next day, make a meat loaf sandwich for lunch or roast a whole chicken for dinner, and take a chicken leg to work.

7. Avoid buying the pre-made meals and convenience foods You sacrifice convenience, but these foods are often three times more per pound.

8. Scan the whole shelf, not just what is right in front of you Many of the second-tier food companies cannot afford to put their products at eye level so their products, which are often a little less expensive, are located on the highest or the lowest shelves. The shelf space directly around the corners of the aisle are considered less effective and also have the second-tier products on them. But don’t let “second tier” scare you away.  These are often locally produced, regional products or just smaller manufacturers that do not have the resources to get the “best shelf space.”

9. Trade down at restaurants No one wants to give up going out to eat, but you might be able to cut your food bill if you take a step down from the restaurants you have usually been visiting. Despite the economy, fast food chains are experiencing a surge in sales and for good reason: they’re cheaper.

10. Buy seasonal produce in season Although you cannot stock up on perishables, you can regularly buy local and seasonal produce. We have become accustomed to having any produce any time and have paid handsomely for it. Look for the citrus fruit when it comes from Florida, and not South Africa or the Middle East. Look for broccoli when it is from local farms and not Chile.  Usually, these local and seasonal items come in fast and in a great quantity and have to be sold quickly - which means cheaply – to the consumer.

“With just a little bit of time and concentration, you can save a lot of money without sacrificing your diet. And the good news is that once the economy bounces back, you will have developed skills in buying and preparing food to carry you through for future savings,” says Stanton. He can be reached for comment at, 610-660-1607 or by calling University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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