Food Demand Survey (FooDS) - August 2016

The August 2016 edition of the Food Demand Survey (FooDS) is now out.

A few if the items from the regular tracking portion of the survey:

  • After a spike up last month, willingness-to-pay (WTP) for steak fell 12%.  WTP for other meat products remained relatively steady compared to last month.
  • Awareness in the news of all items we track (but one) increased in August compared to July, and the largest percent increases in concern were cloning and hormones.
  • Consumers anticipate lower prices for beef and indicate they plan to eat more beef and chicken this month compared to last.
  • Consumer are spending slightly more at home and less away from home on food this month compared to last.

Three new ad hoc questions were added this month.

I was recently made aware of some programs being pursued by food and agricultural organizations to add labels to food advertising, for lack of a better phrase, social causes.  So, I was curious what consumers thought of these sorts of programs.

First, participants were asked: “Imagine seeing a label on a food product that pledges a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the food go to a particular social cause or group.  Which of the following social causes or groups would be most appealing to you?  Participants were asked to rank each of the outcomes on a scale of 5 to 1 where 5=most appealing and 1=least appealing. 

On average, participants ranked a label pledging a “portion of the proceeds go to a local food bank to help the hungry” as the most appealing.  Participants ranked a label pledging a “portion of the proceeds go to a campaign to promote healthy eating and exercise” as the least appealing.   The following figure shows the percent of respondents who ranked each issues as most appealing: More than half the participants ranked "Portion of the proceeds go to a local food bank to help the hungry" as most appealing.  

Second, participants were asked “Which of the following characteristics would be most important to you when shopping for eggs? Please allocate 100 points to the following characteristics in terms of the importance in deciding whether and which egg option to buy (total points must sum to 100).”

Six different characteristics were shown in random order. 

On average, “Price: low vs. high price” was most important when shopping for eggs, with 26 out of 100 points allocated to this issue on average across participants. The brand of eggs was rated as least important with less than half the points allocated to brand than price.  Size was, on average rated slightly more important than cage vs. cage free, whereas color was slightly less important than this issue.  

These statistics can provide a crude estimate of willingness-to-pap (WTP).  Presuming respondents perceive that the gap between low vs. high prices is a $1/dozen difference, then for every dollar change, mean rating falls by 26 points.  By contrast, going from small to large eggs increases the mean rating by about 20 points.  It follows that people would give up 20/26=$0.77/dozen to have large instead of small eggs.  Using similar logic, WTP for cage free vs. cage is $0.67/dozen, brown vs. white is $0.48/dozen, proceeds to preferred social cause vs. none is $0.46/dozen, and least to most preferred brand is $0.46/dozen. 

Presuming respondents perceive that the gap between low vs. high prices is a $2/dozen difference, then for every dollar change, mean rating falls by 26/2 = 13 points. And, in this scenario, WTP for large vs. small eggs is 20/13 = $1.55/dozen.  WTP for the other attributes also double under these assumptions.

Lastly, I added the question, "Are you a member of the AmeriCorps program?"  This question was added in response to a suggestion I received at the end of my AAEA presidential address.  As I discussed a few days ago, one of the points of discussion in my talk related to predicting vegetarian status.  I mentioned how vegetarians/vegans tend to be young, female, liberal, and paradoxically somewhat high income and on food stamps.  After my talk a young women approached me and asked whether I knew if my participants were a part of the AmeriCorps program.  I said "no" - why?  She remarked that the characteristics I just described fit the people she knew who were AmeriCorp members.  I honestly don't know much about the program, but according to my questioner many of the members are young, recent college grads who tend to be liberal and who are often from relatively well-off families but who are encouraged by people in the program to sign up for SNAP (aka "food stamps").  

What did I find in this most recent survey?  Overall, 7.65% of the respondents said they were members of AmeriCorps.  And, overall, 5.6% of respondents said they were vegetarian or vegan.  So, how did my young questioner's hypothesis hold up?  Amazingly well!  Of the people who said they were a member of AmeriCorps, a whopping 40% said they were vegetarian or vegan!  By contrast, only 2.7% of non-AmeriCorps members said they were vegetarian or vegan.  Stated differently, of all the vegetarian/vegans in our sample, over 55% of them were a member of AmeriCorps.