Tim Somheil, editor
People economize more when times are tough, and cutting food costs is at the top of the list.
out less often is an easy way to economize, and consumers are cutting
back on meals eaten outside the home—to the detriment of restaurateurs
and foodservice equipment makers. In this issue’s report on commercial
appliances, managing editor Yaling Lee reports on forecasted
foodservice industry performance in 2009 and how foodservice equipment
makers are helping operators cut cost through better energy efficiency
In the United States, the
Department of Agriculture tracks food prices. The USDA said the
Consumer Price Index of “all food” increased 5.5% from 2007 to 2008,
for the biggest annual increase since 1990. The food-away-from-home
increase was bad enough at 4.4%, but food-at-home increased a whopping
6.4%. The forecast is for somewhat less of an increase in 2009.
Food-at-home is expected to go up 2.5 to 3.5%.
prices, bad news about the economy, and the public’s newfound frugality
have led to grassroots initiatives to help consumers save grocery
dollars. In January, Eating Down the Fridge had food blogger Kim
O’Donnel challenging consumers to stay away from the supermarket for an
entire week and live off the food in their refrigerators, freezers, and
The Food Waste Reduction Challenge,
which ended in March, directed consumers to inventory their
refrigerator, track foods by expiration date, and eat soon-to-expire
These challenges mostly find life
on blogs, FaceBook, and other social networking outlets, as well as in
old-fashioned, person-to-person conversation. Face-to-face and on the
Web, people are talking about all aspects of the economic troubles.
What they’re saying is not always good news for the businesses that serve these consumers.
Cheap Tricks for Troubled Times
food prices rise, some in the food industry are trying to maintain the
illusion of prerecession pricing by cutting package sizes. This is not
new. “Half-gallon” cartons of ice cream have been shrinking for a few
years and are now down to 1.5 quarts, while the price-per-package
continues to climb. Some “1-lb” boxes of pasta are actually 12 oz—but
the price is not 25% less than the 16-oz box it sits next to. My local
grocery stores started selling 20-can packs of soda at the “sale” price
of the familiar 24-can packs.
I’m not saying
these packages lie about the contents. They’re accurately labeled.
Still, my informal polling of friends and family suggests that most of
them have had the experience of coming home from the store with
products that were not what they thought they were buying.
do they feel about it? At best, they look at it as a petty and mildly
offensive shell game being played by food companies. To others, it’s
closer to profiteering.
I don’t understand why
any consumer products company would find either consumer response
acceptable. Just as consumers’ newfound frugality will endure long
after this recession ends, so will negative perceptions of the
companies that made themselves part of the problem.
It’s an important point for any company to consider, whether they sell bow-tie pasta or consumer durables like appliances.