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People are eager to tell us the ways they’re saving money these days. Whether they’re well-off or not, everyone has a story about spending less. Some people are substituting private labels for brands. Others are simply buying less. Then there are those who are behaving differently and buying accordingly. According to a recent report from the Chicago Tribune, home cooking and familiar, "good old basic food" brands are gaining in popularity during the recession.

Here are my top ten new food-related habits of formerly upper-middle class people:

  1. Eating comfort foods that remind us of better times
  2. Having friends over for dinner more often instead of going out
  3. Buying fewer prepared foods
  4. Getting more of their protein from beans
  5. Making more from scratch
  6. Checking the "market" price online before going shopping
  7. Switching from prescription drugs to generics
  8. Shopping at Walmart
  9. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk, or buying them frozen
  10. Serving and eating smaller portions

Which brands stand to benefit most from these new habits? According to the Chicago Tribune’s Recession Survival Guide, "Walmart, Gold Medal Flour … Kraft's Velveeta cheese or Hormel's canned chili. Hormel's chili and its Dinty Moore brand stews posted double-digit sales growth during its most recent quarter. Ditto for Kraft's Velveeta, despite a run-up in cheese prices."

As consumers have gotten choosier about what we put in our shopping carts (and our mouths), upscale grocer Whole Foods has taken a beating. The stock is down nearly 80 percent from its year-ago level, while Kroger and Safeway are down less than 20 percent and 40 percent, respectively. To be fair, this difference is not entirely due to Whole Foods’ higher prices. As the WSJ reported recently company’s acquisition of Wild Oats is compounding its problems. "Instead of concentrating on our business," Whole Foods Chairman John Mackey laments, "we are forced to focus on dealing with regulators in Washington at a time when (our) business is declining."

My pick for the unexpected beneficiary of these trends: Weight Watchers. Why? Competitors like Jenny Craig and NutriSystem sell premade food to participants as part of the program. In contrast, many of the new habits are fully in sync with the Weight Watchers program — more from scratch, eating less meat and fewer processed foods, and making and eating less overall are all fundamental aspects of the Weight Watchers plan. So, with the program simpatico with the times than ever, people should be seeing more success on the scale. And that means more good buzz, which should drive up membership.

The silver lining to the recession? Maybe we’ll actually get healthier while we’re learning how to live on less.









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