Financial Status Changes Exaggerate Food Buys


A whole range of behaviors related to food purchasing among "premium" consumers are exaggerated by changes in financial status, according to a new report from Packaged Facts.

The report, "Premium Consumers in the New Economy: Food and Foodservice," defines premium consumers as those in single-person households with income of $75,000 or more, and those in households of two or more people with income of $100,000 or more.

It's not surprising that premium consumers are in general more likely than others to seek out organic or natural foods (28% versus 25% of the general consumer population). But PF's analysis of data from Experian Simmons' Winter 2008/09 National Consumer Study also shows that this behavior is even more pronounced among premium consumers who report that their financial situation has recently changed, either for better or for worse (29% of those who've experienced a change seek out organics, versus 26% of those whose financial situation has been stable).



Furthermore, among certain key premium demographics, the propensity to buy organic/natural is strongest among those who are worse off, despite the typically higher costs of organics. Among Gen X premium consumers ages 30 to 44, 32% of the "worse off" seek organics, 30% of the "better off," and 26% of the economically stable.

Moreover, premium consumers who are significantly -- rather than just somewhat -- worse off drive this pattern. One-third of those who are significantly worse off are organics seekers, versus 28% of those who are somewhat worse off and 26% of those with unchanged financial scenarios.

The explanation may lie in concern about staying healthy to avoid medical complications and expenses, note PF's analysts. This is bolstered by the finding that while premium consumers in general are also more conscious than the average consumer about health and nutrition, this is particularly true among those who have had a negative change in financial status. Among total premiums, 66% of those who are worse off agree with the statement "I work at eating a well-balanced diet," versus 60% of those who are better off and 60% of those in a stable scenario.

Also, older premiums are even more concerned with diet after a financial setback. Among those 45 and older, nearly three-quarters (72%) of the worse-off agree that they "work" at eating a well-balanced diet, versus 65% of those who are better off and 63% of those who see no change.

Similar patterns emerged in looking at premiums' propensity to watch their calories, and their preference for foods without artificial additives.

Financial setbacks also seem to heighten social consciousness among premium consumers, based on their response to about a dozen ethical consumerism psychographics tracked by Experian.

PF reports that premium consumers who are worse off are not just more likely than the average consumer to express concern about social, economic and environmental issues, but also more likely than their better-off premium counterparts. Comparing the two premium groups, the worse-off are more likely to consider it important that a company acts ethically (85% versus 79% of better-off premiums); to believe that product packaging should be recycled (76% versus 69%), to personally make the effort to recycle (66% versus 58%), to worry about car-generated pollution (53% versus 48%) and to prefer to buy national rather than imported goods (52% versus 43%).

The only exception found was in willingness to pay more for environmentally friendly products--and even there, worse-off premiums were flat, with better-off premiums at 40% (versus 39% of those with unchanged circumstances).

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