Marketers: Food Elites, Realists Taste The Difference In Shopping


A new report from shopper marketing specialist SAI Marketing on the retail food industry concludes that there are two main camps of food consumers in the country.

One group is what the agency calls the “food elite,” comprised primarily of college-educated people from about 16% of higher-income U.S. households. The second group is the rest of us, classified by SAI as “food realists.”

SAI says it’s critical that marketers and agencies understand the differences between the two groups because foods designed for one camp are rarely purchased by the other. 

If a product is marketed as a luxury food item, its required attributes include natural and preferably organic ingredients, as well as a handmade rather than industrial production process. “This can’t be faked,” SAI says of the luxury positioning.



When it comes to food, the elites are snobs, SAI suggests. “One-upmanship plays an important role in socializing with peers.”

Elites are also endless consumers of food content on TV and other media including print and online. Don’t dumb down the messaging to them, the report warns. It should be “grounded in high-level food culture.” Big words count: “Use more complex language known to correlate with higher educational levels, and use more words and claims related to health.” 

For the so-called food realists, food is fuel and price is a key factor in purchase decisions. Coupon tactics are effective. “The concept of food as a luxury item is totally alien to this group,” SAI concludes. For them, the diet consists almost entirely of traditional and conventional foods.

Bill Melnick, director of strategic planning at SAI, says the luxury food market has benefited from a “post-recession migration to soft versus hard luxury items,” That is, a shift toward goods that provide a pleasurable experience, like fine wine and high-end foods and away from expensive tangible goods like jewelry and luxury model cars.

The trend has also impacted travel and tourism and prompted a boost in tours that combine sightseeing with cooking, Melnick said. For the elites, said Melnick, food has become “an external symbol of who you are and where you fit into society.”

While the debate rages on about whether organic foods are any more nutritious than non-organic foods, the outcome of that debate and studies supporting each side are not likely to have much of an impact on either food group, said Melnick. The reason: Food habits are largely grounded in "belief systems," which "empirical evidence" is unlikely to alter.

A full copy of the report, “A Country Divided By Palate and Passion: How America Eats,” can be downloaded from



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