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IRI Says Recessionary Summer Shifts May Become Habits

This summer is different in so many ways its hard to count them all, although the recession and El Nino are ultimately responsible for a lot of what's going on, and even though El Nino will eventually fade, a study from Information Resources, Inc., suggests that effects of the economic downturn will remain as new consumer habits to which retailers will have to adapt.

The good news is, new habits should offer retailers fresh opportunities to help consumers enjoy the home space.

The IRI study, A New Look at Old Summer Rituals, indicates the consumers will spend less on food and vacation this year as they test money-saving strategies that include a fresh look at the tradeoffs between quality and cost, and develop new outlooks on spending.

Making a virtue of a necessity, the report states, consumers say they not only are cooking at home more but enjoying it. Consumers are emphasizing home cooking for four main reasons, IRI determined: to save money, important to 74 percent of study respondents, to eat healthier, important to 61 percent, to spend quality time with the family, important to 29 percent, and to relax more, important to 27 percent.

Across income brackets, an 18 to 28 percentage point increase emerges in plans to cook at home more often. While 62 percent of consumers making $35,000 or less were cooking at home more often in 2008, 80 percent report an intent to do more meal preparation in their own kitchens this summer. Similarly, 53 percent of those earning $35,000 to $54,999 and $55,000 to $99,999 had been cooking at home more during the last nine months of 2008, while today, 78 percent and 75 percent, respectively, of folks in those income brackets are now planning to do so. Even among consumers generating incomes of $100,000, 38 percent of whom where cooking at home more often last year, 66 percent report plans to do more of their cooking at home.

Generally, consumers are cutting back on leisure activities, particularly those conducted outside the home. In the second through fourth quarters of 2008, 67 percent of consumers earning $35,000 or less reduced some spending on favorite activities or cut them out completely. However, 62 percent of those earning $35,000 to $54,999 and 53 percent of those earning $55,000 to $99,999 also reported they cut back or eliminated spending on such activities. Even among those incomes over $100,000, 43 percent eliminated preferred activities to cut spending.

While IRI research has tracked a shift to increased eating at home for more than a year, consumer behavior as regards meal-related costs has become more considered, the firm asserted. The percentage of consumers who plan to eat out less often has declined compared to the past summer, but it's worth considering that folks already were cutting back on meals away from home last year.

In the $35,000 and under income bracket, 52 percent of consumers plan to dine out less frequently this summer compared with 72 percent who said they ate out less in 2008, while 53 percent of those making $35,000 to $54,999 are similarly inclined compared with over 60 percent a year ago. In the next income bracket, 45 percent of those making $55,000 to $99,999 intend to cut out nights on the town while about 55 percent did so last summer. Among those earning more than $100,000 annually, 41 percent say they will eat out less this summer compared to 60 percent last year.