On Wednesday, consumer research platform Attest published its "Facing Up To Food Insecurity" report, which found that 59.5% of consumers are struggling to afford food at least part of the time. The report also dove into changing consumer behaviors, such as the prevalence of home cooking and the rise of the air fryer as a kitchen staple. CPG Insider reached out to Attest CEO Jeremy King to provide further context.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CPG Insider: Aside from high food prices, what are some other factors contributing to these high levels of food insecurity? Do you have an idea from previous data of how much of an increase this represents from prior years?
Jeremy King: In 2019, just 17.1% of consumers thought the cost of food was the number-one issue the food industry should address. Today that figure stands at 38%, which underlines just how much of an issue food affordability has become post-COVID. “Food deserts,” or areas that have limited access to affordable and nutritious food, are also contributing to food insecurity. We see that the consumers who are most struggling to afford food shop in the smallest variety of stores, which indicates that accessibility is likely also a problem.
CPG Insider: When you look at some of the more detailed data about consumer trends and behaviors across demographics, what are some of the key takeaways for food and beverage brands?
King: The data does show quite a lot of regional variation, with difficulty affording food felt most acutely in the South (63.1%) and least in the West (53.2%). There is variation among the age demographics, too: Gen X is most likely to face food insecurity. The important thing F&B companies is to really understand who their audience is, where their products are being distributed, and tailor their strategy accordingly.
CPG Insider: What consumer trends or behaviors struck you as most surprising, or as the greatest shift away from past behaviors? What is fueling these changes?
King: The overwhelmingly positive attitudes towards cooking are surprising. It's likely that the pandemic has had a big impact here. When we surveyed people in September, 2020, just over 69% said they were more likely to spend time cooking than they were pre-COVID, and it looks like that habit has stuck. Consumers discovering the cost savings associated with home cooking also helped fuel the trend. Furthermore, we see that 29% of consumers are being inspired by recipes on social media apps like TikTok.
CPG Insider: How large a role do you think cost plays in consumer behaviors about cooking and eating out at restaurants or ordering takeout?
King: Inflation and the cost of living is certainly having an impact on how frequently people eat out; we see a -6.8 percentage point decline in the number of consumers eating out at least once a week since last year (to 37.5%). In a separate piece of research carried out in April, 2023, 70.1% of people said they were dining at restaurants less as a result of inflation, while 59.4% said they were eating fewer takeout meals. However, since takeout is a more-affordable treat, it bears less of the brunt; nearly 48% of consumers currently get takeout at least once a week.