August 03, 2023

Interpretive Summary: Food insecurity at 17%

Food insecurity at 17% 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The June 2023 edition of the Consumer Food Insights from Purdue University was recently published, citing food insecurity at 17%. The Consumer Food Index, created by Purdue University’s Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability, examines different annual household income categories and related consumer behaviors.

The goal of the report is to gather insights on what consumers are thinking, what they can afford, and what food attributes are most important to them, to better guide farmers and retailers along the supply chain. The insight surveyed 1,200 consumers across the United States.

“Overall, there continues to be a similar narrative of extended upward pressure on food prices as we try to discern whether this stress has led to a tipping point where consumers are struggling to buy the foods that they want,” said Jayson Lusk, the head and Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue, who leads the center.

The national food insecurity rate increased to 17%, which matches our highest recorded rate from March 2022. Additionally, reported food spending has risen by 2.1% from last June, much less than the 6.7% government estimate of food inflation. The report notes that this rise in insecurity could be a result of the pandemic-related boots to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program ending in March. On average Americans are spending $189 a week on food. 

“The 17% food insecurity rate is up from 14% just two months ago, which is not necessarily far outside of the normal variation we have measured. However, this increase could be concerning given the sum of external pressures being exerted on more vulnerable consumers,” Lusk said.

The report also noted that Americans have a Sustainable Food Purchasing (SFP) Index of 69 out of 100. The SFP is a self-reported measure of food purchasing designed to assess how well consumer shopping habits align with healthy diets from sustainable food systems. A top score of 100 reflects consumer food purchasing that aligns with a set of key recommendations for better nurturing human health and supporting environmental sustainability. The SFP Index includes six components that correlate with the different strategies for achieving food systems transformation.

In terms of where consumers are shopping, households making less than $50,000 annually are buying groceries online at a higher rate than other households. In the event of a recession, consumers report that they would reduce spending on steak, pork, and dining out. 

“Discretionary spending on eating out will go first if consumers have to face a recession. Then people will cut back on more expensive items that they can easily substitute in their diets. Steak and bacon, for example,” Lusk said. “It is interesting to see that the items with a large share of ‘does not apply’ are also largely items that will be cut back the most as many people are already choosing to forgo them.” 

Interestingly, consumers largely have positive or neutral feelings about applying artificial intelligence (AI) in the food and agriculture sectors. The report found that 50% of consumers said they would be OK with AI helping them make food choices, which is generally considered a personal decision.

 “The artificial intelligence questions are much more speculative since there are not yet widely known examples of AI being used across the food system,” said Sam Polzin, a food and agriculture survey scientist for the center and co-author of the report. “People really do not have enough information about AI to have thoughtful positions, as seen in the large share of indifference.” 

Read the June 2023 Consumer Food Insights here.