Americans buying cheaper meat and using more coupons as economic crisis begins to hit home

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 28th October 2008

Nearly six out of 10 Americans report they have had to cut back on the quantity or quality of food they buy because of increasing prices, according to The 2008 Hormel Hunger Survey, carried out by the Opinion Research Corporation.The study, commissioned by Hormel Foods Corporation, discovered most Americans (67%) believe that food prices have ‘increased a lot’ since last year, with 61 per cent suggesting that corn-based ethanol is at least partly responsible for higher food prices.

Fifty-seven percent agreed with a statement that using corn to produce ethanol makes the hunger problem worse, and slightly more (58%) agreed we should reconsider the role of ethanol as fuel because of the impact on food prices. More than half (57%) believe using corn to make ethanol is a good idea, but more than half (56%) also say providing subsidies for producing corn to make ethanol is a bad use of tax dollars.

In the survey, which was Hormel Foods’ third annual study on Americans’ experiences with and views on hunger, two-thirds of Americans say they are losing economic ground as inflation outstrips any increase in income. In addition, more than four out of five consumers (84%) are concerned about rising food prices, including four out of 10 who are very concerned.

“Hunger in the United States is a serious issue. We hope this research will elevate the issue and prompt discussions about how we can all work together to help feed America’s families,” said Jeffrey M. Ettinger, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Hormel Foods.

“It is estimated that more than 100 million people in the world have been forced into poverty and hunger because of the dramatic increase in food prices,” noted Benjamin Senauer, a professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota, author and researcher. “Millions of American families’ food budgets have been stretched to the limit and beyond. Food stamp enrollment is up and food banks are seeing unprecedented demand.”

To help them cope with rising food costs, a majority of consumers have been forced to make adjustments in their food-buying habits. One in five (19%) say they have been forced to choose between buying food or gas.

More than half of the 800 adults interviewed are taking multiple steps to reduce food costs, such as using coupons, buying more generic or store brands, eating at home more often, buying less expensive cuts of meat and buying more of less expensive staples such as rice and potatoes.

“The more food we devote to making fuel, the more difficult it is going to be to feed people. Our first priority should be putting quality, affordable food on the table,” Mr Ettinger suggested.

Survey findings also outlined several concerning trends among consumers:

* Hunger is a reality for many Americans, and nearly two-thirds (65%) of the general public believes it is getting worse. According to the survey, 6 percent of Americans said they or someone in their immediate family has gone to bed hungry in the past month because they could not afford enough food

* One in seven Americans (14%) said that they or someone in their immediate family have received food from a food bank, shelter or other charitable organization in the past year because of lack of money for food. Among those who have not received food donations in the past year, more than one in five (21%) say it is very or somewhat likely that rising costs or some other change in circumstance may force them to ask for food from a charitable organization in the future

* The quantity and quality of food available through charitable organizations has also been affected by rising food prices. Among those who have received food donations, more than half (59%) said the amount or the quality or variety of food they received was reduced because of high food prices. While 68 per cent of Americans donated food products to charitable organizations in the past year, 22 percent of them donated less than last year, citing higher food prices and less disposable income.