At a weekly staff meeting of the Food Marketing Institute, one of my colleagues lamented that she went grocery shopping over the weekend and spent more than she usually does despite buying less food. She is not alone.

In the first quarter of this year, shoppers cut back on the amount of edible food they purchased at grocery stores by more than 2.5% (-2.6% according to IRI). However, the amount they spent on these purchases was up more than 6% (+6.2% according to IRI). Despite shoppers’ efforts to look for deals, buy on sale, select different (less expensive) products, and change where they shop, U.S. households are adjusting their spending during these inflationary times. Let’s look at a couple of examples. 

Which came first the chicken or the …?

While the dollars being spent on chicken breast are up (+4.3% per IRI) in the first quarter of 2022, the units/pounds sold are down -5.7%. Where are these shoppers going? Most (61%) are just buying less chicken breasts and a few others (7%) are switching to thighs, legs or whole birds. But a whopping 32% are not buying any chicken during their shopping trip.

Where is the beef?

Again, the dollars are up for fresh beef steak (+5.5% per IRI) but the units/pounds sold in the first quarter are down -5.5%. Many meat eaters (52%) are seeking smaller portions, while some (10%) are switching to other cuts such as ground beef and roasts. Still, more than one-third (38%) have totally cut beef from their shopping carts.

What are they doing?

While it is possible that some shoppers are revisiting the chicken and steak they have stored in freezers they purchased during the pandemic, there are signs shoppers are simply adjusting in other ways. Shoppers appear to be migrating to more economic alternatives from more expensive cuts, for instance, or by enhancing dishes with rice, sauces and soups, all of which have seen increased unit sales. This also includes looking to private brand versions of many of these options, which all experienced increases in unit sales in the first quarter of 2022.

Shopper’s have shown amazing resilience, perseverance and creativity in how they shop since the onset of the pandemic. Stay tuned as FMI continues to plot the evolving behaviors among shoppers with FMI’s 2022 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends series.