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by Maria Kalaitzandonakes and Jonathan Coppess, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois and Brenna Ellison, Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University

Figure 1. Proportion of consumers who indicated they had begun using each coping mechanisms this month due to rising food prices

Recent reports suggest that inflation is slowing down (Isidore, 2023), yet consumers continue to struggle with higher food prices. Here, we review how consumers say rising food prices have impacted their decisions at the grocery store and the dinner table.

Results come from the Gardner Food and Agricultural Policy Survey, which was conducted in November 2022 (farmdoc daily, December 1, 2022). Approximately 1,000 consumers were surveyed using Qualtrics Panels. Respondents were recruited to match the US population in terms of gender, age, income, and geographic region.

It is well documented that rising food prices tend to be most impactful on consumers with low incomes, who spend a larger percent of their income on food. News reports have highlighted that rising food prices may mean reduced access to nutritious foods, which has implications for food security and health (e.g., Fu, 2022; Wiener-Bronner, 2022). We highlight how responses differ across food security status below using the USDA 6-item food security scale with income-based adjustments (Ahn, Smith, and Norwood, 2020).

How Consumers Say They Are Coping with Rising Food Prices
To understand how consumers were handling with rising food prices specifically, we investigated 15 possible coping mechanisms to decrease the cost of food - from switching to cheaper brands to beginning to use a food bank/pantry. For these questions, consumers were asked to indicate which behaviors they began doing due to rising food prices in the last month. If they already engaged in the behavior or if they changed their behavior for another reason (e.g., a new diet), they were instructed not to select the item.

On average, consumers indicated they began engaging in 3.4 coping mechanisms due to rising food prices. Those with very low food security status indicated they engaged in more coping mechanisms. We find that those with high or marginal food security status indicated they engaged in 3.2 coping mechanisms, those with low food security status indicated they engaged in 3.4 coping mechanisms, and those with very low food security status engaged in 4.8 coping mechanisms.

Figure 1 shows the proportion of consumers who indicated they had begun using each coping mechanism. The most common coping mechanisms consumers engaged in this month were switching to cheaper brands or store brands (41.2%) and spending less money on non-food items (38.1%). Reducing amount spent at restaurants (37.9%) was also common.

This is in-line with findings from the Consumer Food Insights report, which find reductions in purchasing food away from home this month (Lusk and Polzin, 2022). Another common coping mechanism was changing the types of foods they purchase (31.5%). Importantly, we find that 17.3% of those surveyed indicated they had starting cutting the size of meals or skipping meals this month because there was not enough money for food.

To view the entire report click here.

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