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Lower-income consumers on federal nutrition assistance along with higher-income consumers, not the middle class, sustained the grocery business as the recession first hit, according to The NPD Group.
To that end, the likelihood of this continuing bifurcation warrants a deeper understanding of the consumption habits of lower-income consumers.
From 2007 through 2010, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) pumped more than $70 billion into the grocery retail industry, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. This was due in part to more Americans participating in the program, but the fact remains that the program provided a cushion for those who might have been at nutritional risk, which, in turn, kept consumers going to food stores.
In terms of the shopping habits of SNAP/Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) recipients today, NPD’s Food and Beverage Consumption Study finds that just under a quarter of the recipients’ dishes were sourced from a supercenter, while that number drops to 15 percent for other consumers. SNAP/WIC recipients are stretching their grocery spend by utilizing the lower-priced options supercenters make available, finds NPD.
The study also reveals that 29 percent of shoppers on assistance programs visit the grocery store every two weeks or less, while other consumers shop more frequently, which may be a function of when SNAP cards are replenished.
As for the eating behaviors of consumers on assistance programs, NPD reports that SNAP/WIC recipients have a higher propensity to skip meals compared to non-participants. These can be considered lost opportunities to consume more fruit, vegetables and dairy – the three main areas of the USDA MyPlate where most consumers fall short of the guidelines.
For instance, at both lunch and dinner, consumers on assistance programs consume nearly half as many green salads as other consumers. At the same time, the beverages they consume at these times are more likely to be sweetened. In between the main meals, when fruit is a top item for snacking, SNAP/WIC consumers eat it less often compared to that of other consumers. These consumers also have a higher obesity rate than other consumers.
“Food marketers would be wise to understand the eating habits of SNAP/WIC recipients since they are a large customer base,” said Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Using messaging and merchandising that is relevant, aligning in-store strategies with the card refill cycles, and providing nutrition education are among the ways in which marketers can yield the best results when connecting with these consumers.”
Chicago-based NPD Group provides comprehensive consumer and retail information to more than 2,000 manufacturers, retailers and service companies to help them drive critical business decisions at the global, national and local market levels.