Tracking consumer preferences

January 29, 2003|By Judith Blake | Judith Blake,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

They're watching us.

Supermarkets, food manufacturers, restaurants - all are constantly trying to figure out where and how you and I are going to spend our food dollars.

To help them predict what's ahead, they keep pollsters busy watching what we're up to - where we shop, what we buy, what we cook, and where and what we eat.

So what have they learned about us lately? A lot. For instance:

Four out of five times when we order a restaurant meal, we're sitting in a car - a new high.

We love Mexican food - especially if we live on the West Coast, where it's the favorite dining-out cuisine.

We're more loyal to favorite brands of food for our pets than for ourselves, though we have loyalties in human food, too.

We're not eating our veggies, or at least not as many as we used to, despite campaigns to get us to do so.

Contrary to widespread earlier impressions, Americans ate out more often in the months immediately after Sept. 11. The increase was 2 percent in late 2001 and 3 percent in early 2002, over the same periods a year earlier.

Aside from the above blip, we're eating out a little less often since the peak year of 2000, possibly because of the slumping economy. In 2000, consumers surveyed said they ate an average of 210 restaurant meals - up from 181 in 1990. In 2002, it was 206 times, including both sit-down and takeout meals.

Hamburgers and pizza are still the leading takeout foods.

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