Consumers may see an increase in food prices at their next grocery store visit, which can complicate healthy eating habits. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts have examined what drives consumers to purchase certain foods and how rising prices can impact choices at the grocery store.
As National Nutrition Month comes to a close, it is important to remember to stay mindful of healthy purchases while maintaining a budget.
“The average American’s food choices surround taste, price and convenience,” said Jenna Anding, Ph.D., RDN, AgriLife Extension nutrition specialist in the Texas A&M Department of Food Science and Technology, Bryan-College Station.
Anding said consumer trends point to healthfulness more and more as the driver of food choices, but in the current landscape, price may be the most powerful determining factor.
The economic factor
“We are seeing the largest increase in prices since the early 1980s,” said David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension professor and economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics.
Anderson said the most notable reasons for food price increases have been the COVID-19 pandemic and recent droughts in the Midwest. Disruptions have affected the supply and demand of goods and services while highlighting the vulnerabilities in the food system.
The period that was spent at home, with great dependence on delivery services and contactless efforts, has been a driver of pent-up demand, he said. Consumers have been spending more time ordering groceries instead of eating out and using less gas in their vehicles, which has created more long-term discretionary spending.
But now that prices are higher, consumers are tending to buy less, Anderson said. Over time, however, prices are expected to moderate, and he does not expect there will be long-term growth in food prices like in the past year.
To offset the increase in the average food budget, Anderson suggests exploring less expensive substitutes. It is important to remember that changes in food prices are easiest to see because these are the things consumers interact with daily.
He also noted that although consumers may see higher prices in store, there is a “disconnect” from what is paid and what farmers are making. He said the bigger issue at stake is loss of cattle due to increased feed costs and less vegetation due to drought.
Importance of a balanced diet
Anding said consumers need to get the healthiest foods for their dollar.
While eating guidelines are beneficial when determining meal portion sizes, not all guidelines were created equally.
“You must look at the diet in its totality,” Anding said.
Certain foods are more nutrient dense than others, but they can all fit into a well-rounded diet. Specifically, the integration of foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts, legumes and grains along with fruits and vegetables allow for more freedom to eat other foods to satisfy cravings and hunger cues.
“As a nutrition educator, I’m a firm believer that all foods can fit in the diet,” she said. “It all comes down to how much and how often you eat them.”
She said this is an important concept to remember when trying to find the balance in food habits and lifestyle choices.
Anding said no one food group should be eliminated completely, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate guidelines are an easy and effective way to ensure consumers are filling their plates with the nutrients they need.
“People choose to eat food, not specific nutrients,” she said. “You are the decider in what foods you consume, but it is important to practice mindful eating habits use moderation in eating all foods you enjoy.”
(Story by Erica Schmueckle, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)