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Troubled economy takes toll at table

Benjamin Franklin said that those who buy things they have no real need for will soon be selling their necessities.

Although, that has not been the wholesale effect of a troubled economy, many people are fearing Franklin’s words could ring true, said Parico Osby, Troy-based regional Extension agent.

“These days, people are more focused on buying what they have to have instead of what they want,” Osby said. “And, this could be a permanent change for us because the standard of living has been predicted to decline over the next 20 years.”

Because everybody has to eat, the declining economy is impacting every family in America right now.

“The escalating costs of products like chicken, fresh strawberries and beans is paving the way to the frozen and canned food aisle,” Osby said. “Frozen and canned foods are more affordable so shoppers are passing the fresh food aisles and heading straight for what they can afford rather than what they would rather have.”

Osby said Spam is a big seller and more ways are being found to prepare it that “Carter has Little Liver Pills.”

And, surprisingly, home-cooked meals that are actually cooked “at home” are gaining in popularity.

“The Food Marketing Institute recently reported that 83 percent of consumers are eating home-cooked meals at home at least three times a week,” Osby said. “An increasing number of consumers have said that, over the last six months, they have cut back on spending because of the economy’s woes.”

Osby said people are eating out less and stocking up on store or generic brands more often.

“Many are giving up convenience and premium items for cheaper alternatives, as well as casing multiple stores for sale items,” she said. “Information Resources, Inc. uses sales receipts of consumer products as a measuring stick. According to their information, shoppers are forgoing fresh fruits and vegetables in favor of frozen varieties because they are cheaper.”

The “choice” frozen foods don’t include prepared foods as more people are cooking from scratch.

“However, when cooking from scratch, frozen vegetables, fruits and meats are substituted for fresh products,” Osby said.

In the last year, sales of frozen pizza and frozen dinners and entrees dropped while frozen vegetables and poultry jumped.

“Buying smaller quantities of foods that we just can’t do without is also a way of coping,” Osby said. “A quart of ice cream instead of a half gallon will stop the craving and cost a lot less.”

One disturbing finding in the IRI survey was that healthy products are more expensive and will be shunned in favor or cheaper products with less health value.