July 12, 2011
Using debit and credit cards have become second nature to most people who don’t want to run to the bank every time they’re out of cash, but new research shows that cash could help your eating habits.
Over a six-month spread researchers looked at the register receipts of a random sample of 1,000 loyal shoppers at a Northeastern supermarket chain and analyzed what they bought and how they paid for it, reports MSNBC.
The study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that shoppers were more likely to buy items considered “unhealthy” when they paid with credit or debit cards than if they paid with cash, and that weekend shoppers were more likely to stick to a list.
Researchers say they were surprised to find that debit cards had the same psychological effect as credit cards, since money is deducted from bank accounts immediately, but with any kind of plastic payment seems people are willing to spend more.
But to make sure that the spending patters weren’t more related to penny pinchers versus those who like to live large, the study also analyzed 125 students in a computer simulated shopping task.
March 4th, 2011
By: Barbara Thau
Where’s the beef? In the mouths of hungry Americans, it seems.
U.S. consumers ordered 2.2 billion hamburgers at restaurants nationwide last year, according to the NPD Group market research firm.
So it seems fitting to sink our teeth into a comparison of what it costs to buy a burger from a national chain restaurant — in this case Applebee’s — versus what it costs to cook one at home.
The National Chain Burger
Here’s what you’ll get with a basic Applebee’s burger:
- Seven ounces of ground beef (weight pre-cooked)
- One leaf of lettuce
- One slice of tomato
- Two to three pickles
- Two to three slices of onion
- One bun
The Applebee’s burger, which also includes five ounces of french fries, costs $7.49 (excluding tax and tip). But keep in mind that costs will vary, depending on where you purchase it in the U.S.
“As far as restaurant pricing goes, in general, the big chains vary their pricing slightly by market,” says Mark Hamstra, editor of retail financial for trade publication Supermarket News.
Just for comparison’s sake, the very similar Ruby’s Classic Burger meal at Ruby Tuesday is also $7.49, and a Classic Burger meal at The Cheesecake Factory, which also comes with fries, is $10.95.
The Make-at-Home Burger
How much does it cost to make a similar burger at home?
To get the most accurate gauge of supermarket food prices nationwide, we used the Consumer Price Index for the burger’s ingredients. Issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, the CPI is an index of average prices paid by consumers for a range of products and services — from food and beverages to housing, apparel, education and transportation costs. (In shopping for this Savings Experiment, the CPI prices proved consistent with grocery store prices.)
- The beef: As of December 2010 (the latest figures available) the average price for 16 ounces of pre-cooked ground beef in the U.S. was $2.38 a pound. Using seven ounces of ground beef to match the size of Applebee’s burger, it will cost about $1.04.
- Tomato: At $1.60 per pound, tomatoes cost about 40 cents per tomato, so one slice of tomato will cost about eight cents.
- Lettuce: CPI figures estimate that lettuce costs about 99 cents per pound nationwide. According to SelfNutritiondata’s website, a lettuce leaf weighs approximately eight grams, which adds up to just short of two cents per leaf.
The CPI doesn’t offer current pricing data for hamburger buns or onions, and lumps pickle pricing in with olives and relish, so we turned to a few local New York City supermarkets to track down those costs. Once again, prices will vary based on where you live.
- Onion: At a local supermarket, a pound of yellow onions costs $1.29 a pound. That’s about 32 cents per onion, which amounts to approximately five cents for a thick slice of onion.
- Bun: A bag of eight Pepperidge Farm hamburger buns cost $3.29. That’s about 41 cents per bun.
- Pickle: A jar of about 20 Claussen pickles costs $5.99, which means one pickle costs about 30 cents, and two pickles costs 60 cents.
So ringing it all up, the cost of your at-home burger — including the meat, one slice each of lettuce, tomato and onion, two pickles and a bun, will cost you $2.20. So far, compared to the $7.49 for Applebee’s burger, that’s $5.29 less.
But we did forget one thing…
Fries With That?
What about the five-ounce serving of french fries that are included with the $7.49 Applebee’s burger? You can buy your own fries at the supermarket, but not five-ounces worth. A two-pound, or 32-ounce bag — which is the standard supermarket size — of french fries from a New York City supermarket costs $3.79.
Although your at-home burger costs less than Applebee’s, you’re buying ingredients for more than one portion (except possibly the ground beef), which will ring up a higher shopping bill than for a single burger. But then again, you’ll have enough to make burgers for the whole family or have enough for leftovers.
And that’s still not the whole story. Let’s say it takes you a half-hour to whip up the burger. Paying yourself the current minimum wage rate of $7.25 an hour, your burger costs you about $3.24 in the price of your labor alone.
However, if you consider cooking a joy rather than a chore, then you can factor those dollars out of the equation. Happy eating.
January 19th, 2011
By: Charles Wallace
Anyone who has been to a supermarket lately knows that food prices are spiraling higher. In the coffee aisle, prices are up 30% in the last couple of months alone, and chocolate, beef and chicken also have grown more costly. Sugar is at a 30-year high. Wheat prices have shot up 47%, thanks to droughts in Russia and floods in Queensland, Australia. And corn keeps surging, not only because of its use as food and feed, but also because of its role as part of the burgeoning biofuels industry.
Food-price inflation doesn’t always get much attention in the U.S. because food accounts for such a small part of our overall household budgets, usually 10% to 15%. But those prices play a far bigger role elsewhere, making up as much as 90% of household spending in Africa and 30% in China and other developing countries.
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization this week reported that world food prices have reached a record high, surpassing the food crisis of 2007. In December, the FAO’s food basket of meat, sugar, diary and cereals was up 4% from November.
But you can also find some profit in this pain: When a commodity’s price climbs, it generally signals an investment opportunity. That holds true for food as well.
Why Ag May Is Poised for Growth
John Stephenson, an asset-management expert who has written a new guide called The Little Book of Commodity Investing, expects agricultural commodities to grow in value because “the world has more people in it, and people are changing their diets as they become more affluent and now eat more protein.” That means high demand for meat and for animal feed such as corn.
Want to get in on the booming agricultural market? One way to invest in it is to buy futures on the Chicago Board of Trade. But for small investors, futures often can be confusing and difficult to trade. Instead, Stephenson recommends other methods, including investing in exchange-traded funds. Unlike ETFs for gold and silver, agricultural ETFs don’t actually own the commodity, but instead buy futures contracts, saving investors the trouble.
Two of the most popular agricultural ETFs include the Agribusiness ETF (MOO), which is based on the DAXglobal agribusiness index and has grown 50% in the last six months, and the PowerShares DB Agriculture Fund (DBA), which is based on the Deutsche Bank Liquid Commodity Index Diversified Agriculture Excess Return and is up 32% from six months ago. Both ETFs invest in a basket of agricultural commodities, which can shift quickly, making it difficult for investors to know how much they’re betting on corn, for example, or soybeans at any specific time.
For more specific commodity investments, Stephenson recommends ETF Securities, a U.K.-based firm. It has specific ETFs for coffee (COFF), corn (CORN), leanhogs (HOGS), soybeans (SOYB), sugar (SUGA) and wheat (WEAT), all of which are traded on the London Stock Exchange.
July 14, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
The refrigerators that supermarkets use to keep products fresh for extended periods of time pose a major threat to the global environment, the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has warned.
When concern over the depletion of the ozone layer entered the mainstream in the 1990s, supermarkets widely phased out the use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), replacing them with ozone-neutral hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The problem is, HFCs have 3,900 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide, and they inevitably leak from fridges as a normal part of everyday use and maintenance.
A single ton of HFCs produces a warming effect equivalent to one billion car trips to the supermarket.
According to the EIA’s Fionnuala Walravens, the group has had trouble raising awareness about the issue, particularly in comparison with recent widespread moves to get consumers to start using reusable shopping bags.
“Fridges are not sexy,” Walravens said. “The environmental impact of supermarket refrigeration is a big issue but little understood … it is a hell of a lot bigger than free plastic bags.”
Refrigerator emissions are responsible for 30 percent of an average supermarket’s direct climate footprint.
For two years in a row, the EIA has produced a report ranking supermarkets for their efforts to address the problem. To date, only 0.5 percent of U.K. stores have switched to less damaging refrigerant gases, such as ammonia, hydrocarbons or carbon dioxide.
“Though some supermarkets have made a good effort over the last year, the survey results are disappointing,” Walravens said.
Lowest ranking of all British supermarket chains was the “ethical” Co-operative Group, which recently refitted stores with new HFC refrigerators and shows “heavy reliance” on HFC fridges at its distribution centers. Although megachain Tesco ranked in at number two, as the United Kingdom’s largest grocery chain it is still also its largest HFC polluter.
The EIA is calling on all stores to phase out HFC fridges by 2015.
February 22, 2010
Organic Consumers Association
By Peter Aldhous and Phil McKenna
IF YOU care about the environment, you may want to show that in the way you spend your money. Maybe you shop at an organic food store rather than a conventional supermarket. You probably look at energy efficiency labels before buying a new laptop. And if you’re really serious, you may even be concentrating your nest egg into “green” investment funds.
All of these decisions could help steer us towards a truly green economy – but only if consumers and investors have a good idea of which companies have genuinely minimised their impact on the environment. Do the corporations that benefit from our environmentally conscious purchasing and investment choices deserve their green halo?
To find out, New Scientist teamed up with two companies that have collected the most relevant data. Earthsense, based in Syracuse, New York, has polled US consumers on their perceptions of the “greenness” of various companies. Trucost, headquartered in London, has compiled an unparalleled quantitative assessment of companies’ global environmental impact (see interactive graphic, and “How we crunched the numbers”).
Bringing these two sets of information together shows just how confused ordinary people are about companies’ green credentials. Overall, there was no correlation between the Earthsense and Trucost scores, suggesting that US consumers have little idea about companies’ environmental performance relative to each other. And looking within industrial sectors, the only hint of accurate consumer awareness came for technology companies (see “Geeks, gadgets and the environment”).
In some cases there were dramatic mismatches between perceptions and reality. Take media firm Discovery Communications: its environmental impact, per dollar earned, is almost indistinguishable from TV and movie giant Viacom. Yet Discovery has a stellar green reputation that Viacom does not enjoy – which could be due to Discovery’s content, which includes Animal Planet TV and websites such as TreeHugger.
Some of the greatest confusion surrounds the food and beverage sector. Of the 115 firms we analysed, producers of food and drinks stood out as having the highest environmental impact – significantly different from media firms, retailers, technology companies and manufacturers of personal and household goods. Yet there were no significant differences in consumer perceptions between the sectors. In general, US consumers fail to recognise the high environmental costs associated with agriculture and food processing.
When it comes to perception, one company’s high score truly stands out: Whole Foods Market, which operates more than 270 stores, mostly in the US. As a purveyor of “natural and organic produce”, everything about Whole Foods shouts green. In addition to its overall branding, the company has taken steps to reinforce its environmental credentials, including improving the efficiency of its refrigerators and reducing packaging. But Trucost’s modelling rates Whole Foods no better than conventional supermarkets such as Safeway.
February 1st, 2010
By Zoe Wood
Greenhouse gases used in supermarket fridges and freezers pose as great a threat to the environment as plastic bags, according to a study by campaigning group the Environmental Investigation Agency.
Chemicals released by fridges account for 30% of supermarkets’ direct emissions, yet only 0.5% of stores have been fitted with greener equipment, according to the report, called Chilling Facts.
The research points the finger at “ethical” grocer the Co-operative Group, which scored the lowest marks of the major grocery chains.
The EIA has faced a struggle to raise awareness of the problem. “Fridges are not sexy,” said Fionnuala Walravens. “The environmental impact of supermarket refrigeration is a big issue but little understood … it is a hell of a lot bigger than free plastic bags.”
The EIA is concerned about the widespread use of damaging HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) gases as coolants. Supermarkets are the biggest industrial emitters of HFCs, which were hurriedly introduced in the 1990s as a safer alternative to ozone-depleting chemicals such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).
HFCs do not damage the ozone layer but their global warming potential is significant. One tonne of the widely used gas called R404a has a warming effect equal to 3,900 tonnes of CO2 over a 100-year period. The level of leakage of the chemicals is equivalent to 1bn car journeys to the average local supermarket. The gases escape in normal use and maintenance.
There are alternatives that can be used for refrigeration. More climate-friendly chemicals have been adopted in Sweden and Demark and by major multinationals including McDonalds and Coca-Cola. But British supermarkets have been slow to make the change.
“Though some supermarkets have made a good effort over the last year, the survey results are disappointing,” Walravens said.
The Co-op scored just 19 out of a possible 100 because recent store refits included old HFC-based refrigeration. According to the EIA, there was also “heavy reliance” on ozone-depleting HCFCs in its distribution centres. The company said the report was based on “dated information” and ignored recent steps to reduce leakage, which was cut by almost 30% last year.
“We are currently upgrading our entire distribution network and robustly progressing the removal of HCFCs,” said a Co-op spokeswoman. “The main reason we have been rated badly is that the report falls into the trap of rewarding distant targets and not hard-won improvements in performance. The Co-op’s commitment to reducing emissions is clear and, unlike some of the other retailers featured, we have openly disclosed our emissions data to the EIA.”
Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Aldi all refused to share emissions data with the researchers. But even without their figures the EIA said the “reported” industry tally was the equivalent of 1.13m tonnes of CO2, suggesting the total release of climate-damaging HFCs is significantly higher.
Now in its second year, the survey asked supermarkets to supply details of the refrigeration used in their supply chain and stores. It found that 46 out of more than 8,300 stores used climate friendly systems, up from 14 in 2009. Asda, the UK’s second largest grocer, was criticised by the EIA for reneging on previous promises, with no new HFC-free stores since the previous year’s survey. The Wal-Mart owned grocer countered that the technology was “not ready” so it was concentrating on stemming leakage. Frozen food chain Iceland was also slammed for its failure to grapple with the issue.
The EIA wants the supermarkets to promise to remove HFCs by 2015 and replace them in new stores with less damaging options, such as CO2, ammonia and hydrocarbons.
Waitrose jumped from near the bottom of the league table in the 2009 survey to the top, scoring 60 out of 100, after promising to put greener systems in all new stores and major refurbishments. Tesco was second, reflecting its plans to install alternative systems in 120 stores. However, by virtue of being the country’s biggest food retailer, Tesco is the biggest emitter and as yet has set no date to phase out HFCs. Sainsbury’s was disappointed to rank fourth behind Marks & Spencer, arguing its work in the area was “industry-leading”.
“We are in the process of switching to CO2 technology, which will be in 135 stores within four years and all new supermarkets from June,” said Sainsbury’s environmental affairs manager, Jack Cunningham. “We don’t believe the EIA has taken into consideration the scale of our plans and the size of our estate when compared to some of our smaller competitors.”
The EIA campaign is backed by sustainability consultant Julia Hailes, author of The New Green Consumer Guide. She said getting supermarkets to switch to “green” refrigeration would be “vastly more significant than cutting back on carrier bags”. Supermarket HFC emissions were on a par with the production of 5.6bn plastic bags, according to EIA figures.
Amid concerns about the cost of replacing older systems and the energy efficiency of the systems being ushered in, the EIA wants the government to take the lead. Walravens said the response from supermarkets was “good” compared with the “inexcusable inaction” of the government. “Many organisations are looking for clear direction and deadlines for the elimination of HFCs.”
January 8, 2010
By Robert Preidt
Many reduced-calorie restaurant and packaged foods in the United States have more calories than indicated on their nutritional labeling, a new study reports.
Tufts University researchers analyzed 29 quick-serve and sit-down restaurant foods and found they contained an average of 18 percent more calories than the stated values. The team also checked 10 frozen meals bought from supermarkets and found they had an average of 8 percent more calories than what was printed on the label.
Three of the supermarket-purchased meals and seven restaurant foods contained up to twice their stated amount of calories.
An added complication was identified with some restaurant meals. Five restaurants provided side dishes at no extra cost, and the average amount of calories in the side dishes was greater than for the entrees they accompanied, the researchers reported.
The study appears in the January issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
“These findings suggest that stated energy contents of reduced energy meals obtained from restaurants and supermarkets are not consistently accurate and, in this study, average more than measured values, especially when free side dishes were taken into account, which on average contained more energy than the entrees alone,” wrote the researchers, led by Susan B. Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts’ Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
They noted that a “positive energy balance of only 5 percent per day for an individual requiring 2,000 kcal/day could lead to a 10-pound weight gain in a single year.”
Not only could this hamper people’s attempts to control their weight, the researchers wrote, but it also could “reduce the potential benefit of recent policy initiatives to disseminate information on food energy content at the point of purchase.”
October 5, 2009
My Way News
By Rachel Beck
There has never been a better time to be a consumer. America is on sale.
The Great Recession has caused massive job losses and hardship for millions, but it has also fostered a shoppers’ paradise. Anyone who still has the means to spend can find unheard of deals.
Prices on everything from clothes to coffee to cat food are dropping, some faster than they have in half a century. Items rarely discounted – like Tiffany engagements rings – are now. The two biggest purchases most people make – homes and new cars – are selling at steep price reductions.
“This is the new normal,” says Donald Keprta, president of Dominick’s, a supermarket chain in the Midwest, which just cut prices by as much as 30 percent on thousands of items. “We aren’t going back.”
Consumers like Karen Wilmes, a mother of two in Hopkinton, R.I., relish the steals. During a recent trip to Shaw’s Supermarkets, she bought a basketful of goods, including Eggo waffles, Kleenex tissues and Betty Crocker cake mix. The retail price: $63.89. Wilmes paid $7.31 by buying items on sale and using coupons.
“The deals out there are unbelievable,” says Wilmes, 36, who writes the Frugal Rhode Island Mama blog, which tracks local and national bargains. “We can put the money I save toward something else.”
And she’s doing just that, but only when she can find another deal. Wilmes and her husband recently bought a Samsung television from Best Buy’s Web site for $1,299, about $300 less than she found at other stores. She also got free delivery and another $13 back from ebates.com, which receives commissions from online retailers for directing customers their way.
What’s happening now has been building for years. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. introduced “every-day low prices” many years ago. Amazon.com redefined the idea of bargain prices during the late 1990s when it helped introduce online shopping. After the 2001 recession, automakers introduced zero-percent financing to boost sales. McDonald’s “Dollar Meals” made fast food even cheaper.
But until the Great Recession came along, consumers hadn’t seen anything yet.
Last fall’s financial meltdown triggered a plunge in stock prices and home values and wiped out 11 percent – $6.6 trillion – of household wealth in six months. It also put an end to easy credit, which had fueled the consumption that powered the economy for most of the decade.
Those who still have jobs don’t want to spend as they once did. There is a new societal pressure to be careful and smart when buying almost anything. From Chicago’s Miracle Mile to malls around Orange County, Calif., it was once a status symbol to trot around with armloads of shopping bags with designer names on them. Now, it’s considered ostentatious.
Traditionally, manufacturers and retailers lowered prices to clear inventory. Today, they’re cutting prices because consumers are demanding it. If it lasts, the ramifications will be wide-ranging.
“There’s almost a new morality to spending,” Liz Claiborne Inc. CEO Bill McComb told an investor conference last month.
In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults. Click here for more information and to view the trailer of Food, Inc.