woman reading her shopping list in the supermarket with copy space

Amid the highest 12-month increase in food at home prices since 1979, many Americans are coping by sticking to strict food budgets, switching to cheaper foods, and eating food that has passed its expiration date, according to Attest’s latest US Food & Beverage Report

To find out how food inflation is impacting consumer behavior, Attest surveyed 2,000 Americans on their grocery spending habits. The survey revealed that consumers are becoming more cost-conscious, even leaving behind values like plant-based eating and sustainability to get the best price. 

Consumers trim off excess spending

Average weekly grocery spend jumped by $14 in six months and is up to $111.19, with 15% of Americans spending $200 or more a week.

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This cost increase is impacting how consumers shop:

  • Half are switching to less expensive brands
  • 47% are staying within a budget
  • 46% are choosing cheaper foods
  • 40% are buying less food overall

Rising costs have limited spending in most food categories, primarily in premium/luxury foods (-61%), alcohol (-49%), and convenience foods (-37%). 

Brand loyalty on pause across categories

Many consumers have switched to cheaper brands over the past six months, with 43% of people doing so for bread, 39% for potato chips and snacks, and 39% for cereal. But Americans are more loyal when it comes to beer and spirit brands (only 11% switched brands), and soup and baked beans (16% switched). 

Although 33% of survey respondents reported switching to cheaper soft drink brands, they were most likely to name beverage brands when asked which brands they plan to stay loyal to — Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Dr Pepper were most commonly named. Kraft and Heinz were also among the brands to which surveyed consumers pledged their loyalty.

Expiration dates near expiration

Americans have started looking at expiration dates under the lens of inflation — more consumers (17%) are beginning to eat foods that have passed their expiration dates, joining the 30% who have been doing so for a while. 

The most common foods consumers are willing to eat beyond expiration include potato chips and snacks (57%), cereal (50%), and cookies and candy (48%). Fresh meat (17%) and yogurt (14%) are far less likely to be eaten after expiration. 

Other ways consumers are cutting costs and avoiding food waste include:

  • 53% are eating foods that have been opened longer than the recommended time (18% have just started doing this) 
  • 38% are removing “bad bits” from food to eat the rest (15% started doing so recently)
  • 24% recently started and 34% have already been buying discounted food that’s close to expiring

These findings suggest that consumers are drawing their own conclusions about the freshness of food, and it might be time to rethink the value of expiration dates in terms of food waste.

Saving money outranks sustainability, plant-first diets

Food prices influence how much consumers are willing to spend on sustainability — nearly a third of consumers showed a preference for environmentally-friendly brands last year, but only 24% try to shop this way now. Americans are also less likely to buy organic (down from 30% to 25%) and locally produced (down from 44% to 36%) products than they were a year ago.

We’ve already seen consumers shifting to eating more meat and less plant-based foods in response to increased costs. And Attest’s study confirms that meat consumption has risen compared to last year — despite the high cost of meat products, it’s the more economical choice for Americans on a tight budget. 

Plant-based diets dropped 9%, the number of vegan consumers fell from 4% to 1%, and the number of vegetarians declined from 6% to 4%. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves “meateaters” rose from 64% to 73%.

It seems Americans are still trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets, with the market value of plant-based foods still on the rise. But meat will always have a place at the table, especially when cost is a deciding factor.

See Attest’s full report for more insights into consumer behavior changes driven by rising food prices.