Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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A peek at Americans' eating habits

My pantry cupboard is looking a little bare. The week before Christmas, it was stuffed with ingredients for holiday dinners. Now it's back to the once-a-week visit to the supermarket and the regular budget.

The truth is, if you opened the pantry door in any home, you could pretty well assess what the style of eating is, what is being cooked, what the favorite foods are, and where food dollars are being spent.

Americans spend an average of $95 per week on groceries, according to marketing research firm Mintel. This amount increases to $105 for the 35-to-54 age group due to the children in the household. One-person households spend an average of $63 per week for groceries, while households of four or more spend an average of $30 or less per person.

Mintel also found that today's kids spend $10 billion annually on food, thanks to money they receive in allowances and for doing chores. After school is the prime snacking time, with 15 percent eating snacks after dinner, indicating they are snacking when not hungry. Snacks are also bought in school cafeterias or through vending machines, and at convenience stores and gas stations.

Baby boomers are interested in functional beverages, which give energy boosts to those who are time-pressed. These drinks are also perceived as hip and fashionable, as a way to get recommended daily allowances of vitamins and nutrients, and as meal replacements.

Also available are products formulated for women such as cereals fortified with calcium and other foods fortified with soy.

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are the top-selling brands of functional drinks, according to Mintel. This includes Tropicana Pure and Minute Maid juices and consolidation and acquisition of smaller suppliers such as Odwalla and SoBe. New products such as energy drinks and vitamin-enhanced bottled water got a boost from the success of Red Bull.

Slimming meals is a category that includes Slim Fast, Jenny Craig, Zone Perfect, and Atkins' lines of bars. Mintel's Global New Products Database shows that 368 new snack bars were introduced in the first 10 months of 2003.

One-quarter of Americans eat prepackaged low-calorie meals such as Weight Watchers of Healthy Choice.

Consumers eat 80 percent of their meals at home, but with less time to spend in the kitchen, frozen foods are an alternative to take-out for a group that has less disposable income to spend on restaurant meals.

These products are certainly part of those food dollars.

As for me, I hope I skip the snacks in the supermarket aisle. I know I'll skip the functional beverages, the fortified products targeting women, the energy drinks, and the slimming meals. Instead, I'll cruise the produce aisle, the meat counter, the dairy products, and bread shelves. Throw in some canned and frozen vegetables and baking ingredients. Basic four food groups still make sense not only for healthy eating, but also for your food budget.

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