What Low-Income Consumers Want: On Food, Eating and Health & Wellness
Who doesn’t want to eat healthy, delicious food that tastes home-cooked? For consumers with means, it’s an attainable ideal, but low-income consumers face more constraints in getting there. The lower one’s household income, the more likely one is to experience all varieties of limitations and the less able one is to plan ahead and budget for food shopping. And low-income consumers perceive price to be a key barrier between their current realities and their ideals and goals when it comes to improving their health and wellness and eating generally.
From The Hartman Group’s The Business of Thrift 2018: Understanding Low-Income and Value-Oriented Consumers report, here’s how low-income consumers’ attitudes and aspirations toward food, eating, and health and wellness look from a cultural point of view.
Attitudes and Aspirations
“I’m worried that good, healthy food is going to become way too expensive and that we will be forced to buy foods that aren’t as good for us, that are super processed, and that there will be nothing but caged farms and non-free-roaming animals.” Millennial Male, SNAP recipient
Low-income consumers are more likely to view their diet and health as diminished relative to other consumers. They do not see themselves eating as well as the average American in terms of health, freshness, quality, or variety. They’re also more likely to perceive themselves as less healthy, especially on a range of mental health factors related to stress, relaxation, and balance.
Consumers in the lower income brackets feel more barriers between them and their aspirations — especially affordability and access. These barriers tend to be external and therefore potentially amenable to companies that may have solutions. Mid/high-income consumers are more likely to see themselves and their own preferences as their biggest obstacle to improved eating and health and wellness.
Income levels do not generally impact consumers’ definitions of health and wellness. For low-income consumers, feeling good about one’s self, being able to deal with stress, being physically fit, and not being ill are important meanings of health and wellness.
On Food and Eating
When it comes to home cooking, consumers across income levels generally enjoy it and feel they have the skills to do it well. Most consumers, regardless of income, view cooking as both good for the wallet and good for the waistline, which casts home cooking as a morally upright habit. Low-income shoppers are as likely to cook as higher-income folks, but their tight budgets preclude risk taking. They opt more often for whatever is easiest and cheapest and are less likely to prioritize nutrition.
Ultimately, what lower-income consumers want — healthy, tasty, fresh, and affordable food — is not that different from other consumers, but their budgets do not allow for much beyond the essentials.
Low-income consumers’ eating aspirations are focused on eating more healthy, fresh and home-cooked food with others. When asked, in our Business of Thrift 2018 survey, if there were no obstacles to eating a certain way or certain types of foods, 65% of low-income consumers said they would rather consume more healthy foods/drinks, 62% said they would consume more fresh foods, 57% said they would eat more often together with family and friends, and 55% said they would eat more home-cooked food.
Low-Income Shoppers Are Less Likely to Buy Snacks, Treats and Most Fresh Perimeter Categories
As income decreases, low-income shoppers tend to buy fewer categories overall, restricting their purchasing to “necessary” categories. When asked about their shopping when they need to save, low-income shoppers tend to list their typical grocery staples and retailers. “Splurge” items tend to be premium and perishable, but “splurge” retailers often reveal deeper food values.
For Most Low-Income Shoppers, Food and Beverage Shopping Is Driven by Payday Cycles
For most low-income shoppers, payday shopping is their regular shopping: 63% of low-income shoppers do most of their shopping after payday (vs 30% of mid/high-income shoppers). While they like a good deal, their slim budgets often mean they can’t take advantage of many promotions. Instead, they focus on reducing their overall food purchasing and usage — they simply buy less.
What Low-Income Consumers Want
The key is really understanding what low-income populations your particular company serves. Younger low-income consumers want to participate in current food trends (e.g., fresh, less processed, global culinary trends, quality cues) but at lower prices. Families with children are looking for good deals on kids’ staples and ways to get a dinner on the table that is tasty enough, healthy enough, and quick to make. Understanding your particular low-income shoppers will also help you know when to time promotions around payday (when some consumers tend to stock up) and the mid-month/end-of-month time when these consumers really need to stretch those dollars and are only buying necessary staples.
Low-income shoppers need more affordable solutions for fresh food, whether it’s smaller pack sizes at lower price points, innovations that maximize freshness and prevent spoilage, or discounts that bring down the total cost (such as $5 off when you buy $15 of produce). Another option is meal deals, or a promotion on a suite of cross-merchandized products that make an inexpensive, healthy, tasty meal that can last a few days.
In the center store, low-income shoppers often don’t have the flexibility to take advantage of sales if an item isn’t on their list already or if they must buy multiple items. Solutions that make sales and coupons easier to access and use for everyone would help them participate more.