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Makeover of shopping habits can offset rising food costs


Robert E. Thomas
Information Specialist
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group
Phone: 573-882-2480

Published: Friday, May 2, 2008

Story sources:

Cynthia Fauser, 314-615-2911Ellen R. Schuster, 573-882-1933

COLUMBIA, Mo. -A makeover of your shopping habits could offset rising food costs, said a University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

"There is plenty of room for savings in the typical family food budget that can more than offset the current upswing in prices," said Cynthia Fauser. "It just takes some planning."

Food inflation has been running at a 5.3 percent annual rate in the past three months. Nearly half of the consumers in a USA Today/Gallup Poll say food inflation has caused a hardship for their families.

Before your next trip to grocery store, look in your refrigerator, said Fauser. Households throw away 14 percent of the food they buy. That adds up to about $600 a year, according to a University of Arizona study.

Fifteen percent of what is thrown away is unopened and within its expiration date.

Go to the grocery store armed with a list. Shop alone and get in and out of the store quickly. This cuts down on impulse buying of unneeded items. For every minute in a supermarket, consumers spend $2.17, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

Try store brands. These brands average 26 to 28 percent less than nationally advertised brands, Fauser said. A 2006 Consumer Reports test of 65 store-brand products found many of these products score at least as high in quality as national brands.

"In fact," she said, "many are made by the same companies."

Buying bigger is not always cheaper. While sometimes economical, bulk buying is more expensive about 25 percent of the time. Toilet paper, frozen orange juice and canned tuna frequently cost more in larger sizes. Take a calculator to compare unit prices. Sales tags often do not re-compute unit prices, she said.

Learn the pattern of your store's loss-leader items. Different sections of the store are featured each week in rotation. By knowing the pattern, you can stock up on each week's loss-leader items, especially staples like cereals, juice and paper towels.

"Use coupons, but don't let coupons entice you into buying products you would not ordinarily buy," she said.

Reach up and bend down. Bargain items are found on the top or bottom shelves. Companies pay a premium for shelf placement. Higher-profit items are more likely to be at eye level, she said.

Buy non-food item from discount stores. Grocery stores have high markups for pet food, cleaning supplies and personal care items.

Be careful when choosing convenience foods. A few, like mashed potato flakes, are even cheaper than fresh-made, but many items like grab-and-go soups come at a high store markup.

Cut back on foods with no nutritional value. Consumers spend about 12 percent of their food dollar on things like cookies, chips, donuts and soft drinks. Leave more dollars for healthier fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Creating a cost-saving food shopping strategy is a chance to evaluate your family's overall diet, said Ellen Schuster, MU state nutrition specialist.

"People need to rethink what is an appropriate amount of food and portion size. Maybe we are eating more food than we really need," Schuster said. "We want to get the best buy for our food dollars. Foods high in fats or sugar are not your best buy."

A good strategy is to shop the outer aisles of supermarkets, where you find vegetables, dairy products and meats. The inside aisles display processed foods and snacks, said Schuster.