BRADENTON — The economy has consumers practicing a grocery shopping strategy that typically occurs when hurricane warnings are issued — stocking up on food.
It’s not happening in the frantic fashion that occurs when there’s a hurricane scare. However, the recession has people concerned about rising food prices and, as a result, they’re loading up their shopping carts when they spot a bargain.
“When I see a buy-one-get-one (free) sign, I stock up,” said Bryan Langley, who put several boxes of macaroni and cheese in his cart Wednesday at Publix. “(The deals) pretty much dictate what you’re going to eat, but it’s all I buy. There’s six of us in the house so it ends up being the best way to go.”
Langley is in good company, according to a study titled “Pantry Stocking in a Down Economy” conducted by Information Resources Inc., which tracks consumer, shopper and retail market data.
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According to the study, stock-up purchases made up 42 percent of consumer packaged goods expenditures in 2008, up 2 percent from 2007.
Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida Institute for Economic Competitiveness, said the rising cost of food is triggering alternative shopping trends.
“I think there may be some lingering memory of what happened last summer when oil prices hit $150 a barrel and put a lot of pressure on food prices,” Snaith said.
Between 2007 and 2008, food prices increased 5.5 percent, the highest annual increase since 1990, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA projects food prices will increase 3-4 percent this year.
“I think when prices are low they’re taking advantage of it,” Snaith said. “Now consumers are really looking and seeking out cost savings wherever they can get them.”
Grocery stores such as Winn-Dixie, Publix and Albertsons notice the popularity of their weekly promotions and have ramped up deals that include buy-one-get-one-free, dollar deals or customer reward card deals.
Publix and Albertsons publish buy-one-get-one-free ads in addition to regular weekly ads, and both average about 30 of the deals a week and add about 15 additional deals during the holidays.
“Within the last few years, we’ve increased the number of BOGOs we offer,” said Shannon Patten, spokeswoman for Publix. “I think consumers are stocking up on the deals more now because of the economy and because it’s items that they can use.”
Bradenton resident Sherri Manring scouts out buy-one-get-one-free deals among all grocery stores before she goes food shopping.
“My pantry is pretty full,” Manring said. “Between the advertised specials and vendor coupons, I save about $20-$50 a week at the grocery store.”
The key to smart stock-up shopping is to maximize the savings with coupons, said Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com, a site where consumers can print coupons and get tips on shopping strategies.
“The key to stocking up on bargains is having multiple coupons,” Nelson said.
Nelson says the three basic tips to stocking up on bargains is knowing the prices of items so you can recognize when it’s good to stock up, know the store’s savings programs, and know how to use and find coupons.
Nelson recognizes more consumers are practicing strategic shopping concepts such as using coupons and stocking up on bargains due to increased membership and activity on CouponMom.com.
“Since the recession started, that’s when our site started exploding,” Nelson said.
The site had 200,000 members a year and a half ago and now has 1.8 million. And in May 2008, $200,000 worth of coupons were printed from the site compared to $5 million worth in May 2009.
“When you look at those numbers it’s pretty clear people are seeking out ways to save,” Nelson said.