It's inevitable that families and individuals will see, or have already seen, the effects of the country's current economic strife staring them in the face at the dinner table or while standing in front of their open refrigerators. The cost of food has continued to rise, and most of us have had to reevaluate what we buy, how much we buy and, in some cases, where we buy it.
The Consumer Price Index, a program that produces monthly data on changes in prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods, recently reported a .6 percent increase in food and beverage expenditures, the second such increase in the last two months. The index for cereals and bakery products rose 1.1 percent in September, after a slight decline in August. Meats, poultry, fish and eggs rose 1 percent, while dairy products, fruits and vegetables were down.
At the same time, Alabama residents paid nearly 1 percent more for a basket of 20 common grocery items during the first week of October, up 50 cents from last month, according to the Alabama Farmers'92 Federation, . The organization says higher energy costs contribute significantly to the increase, while global demand for meat and dairy products, higher feed costs and labor shortages affecting Western produce harvests are also factors. Even with declining fuel prices, customers can expect to see higher food costs for several months.
In response to customers' growing interest in saving money, Whole Foods introduced the "Way to Shop" tour, during which trained employees lead customers through the store, pointing out ways to save money and still take advantage of Whole Foods'92 quality standards.
'93The idea for the tours really was economically driven. Our customers were telling us that budget was a primary concern,'94 says Laura Brooks Bright, marketing director for the Mountain Brook store.
Whole Foods is one of several grocery chains throughout the country conducting similar tours and initiating programs that educate customers about value and budgeting. Among them, stores like Trader Joe's, Heinen's and Stop & Shop.
'93Even in a tough economic time, there'92s an opportunity to still put the right food in front of your family,'94 said Jim Dwyer, executive vice president of strategy and business development for the Stop & Shop chain, in an Oct. 13 New York Times article.
Most of the advice Whole Foods value experts dish out during the tours can be applied to other stores. Customers who take the '93Way to Shop'94 tour will get some of the same tried and true advice experts have been reiterating recently: Comb the Internet and newspaper for coupons; stick to a shopping list; plan meals in advance, taking care to use or freeze leftovers when possible. The Food Marketing Institute recently found that 67 percent of consumers are buying fewer luxury foods. At the same time, 58 percent are eating more leftovers, which is something Brooks Bright encourages. During the tour, she also points out Whole Foods own brand of products and compares them to other items on the shelves. The 365 brand includes all the essentials, from salad dressings and milk to shampoo and conditioner, which come in jumbo bottles for less than $4. Customers who participate in the tour will be able to sample products from the brand, as well as receive a gift bag at the end of the tour.
Similar tours, such as one highlighted earlier this year in Boise State's independent student newspaper, are meant to allow participants to learn the value of making and sticking with a shopping list, cooking in bulk, buying in bulk and paying attention to food labels. Boise State Campus Dietician Hillary Horton-Brown has been conducting grocery store tours for students since 2005. Like the tour at Whole Foods, Horton-Brown's tour focuses on buying healthy food on a budget. Some of her tips include shopping on the perimeter of the store where items from the food groups are located. She also says to stay away from food at eye level and near the register because it is usually not healthy or necessary.
Brooks Bright also provided Whole Foods' top 10 tips for saving money without sacrificing quality. Check them out below:
Top 10 Tips for Saving on Great Food
1. Keep track of what's in your pantry and fridge so you only buy what you need.
2. Check specials online or at the store and plan your meals around what's on sale.
3. Plan meal ideas for a week, shop with a list and stick to it.
4. Buy produce in season.
5. Buy bargains in quantity, but only if it is something you normally use, can store properly and won't waste.
6. Plan ways to use leftovers - they can gain new life in soups, casseroles, salads, wraps and sandwiches.
7. Freeze sale goods, quantity purchases or leftovers in meal-size amounts in freezer-weight plastic.
8. Shop when you have time to compare the pricing of similar items on the shelf.
9. Don't shop when you are hungry.
10. Shop bulk grocery bins where available, especially when you need just a small amount of something.
For even more shopping tips and information on the "Way to Shop" tours, check out the article "Shop talk: Grocery store tours reveal budget-friendly tips" from this week's issue of Birmingham Weekly.