HEALTH

New IRI report highlights recession-era consumers, trends

BY Michael Johnsen

CHICAGO The current recession has created a new niche of consumers identified as the “Downturn Generation” by Information Resources Inc. in a news release Monday.

This new generation of Americans is adopting practices similar to Depression-era shoppers, implemented both to weather the recession and to keep a close eye on spending long after the recession ends.

The latest IRI Point of View, “Dissecting the Downturn Generation: Recognizing and Leveraging Permanence in Today’s Transformational Economy,” highlights how shoppers are changing behaviors to adapt to the unstable economy and uncovers the new habits they intend to continue even if the economy improves. The report reveals permanently changed approaches toward important rituals, including diet, self care and home maintenance and classifies three emerging categories of shoppers, which are:

  • Optimists – believe “things will get better during the next 12 months,” are spending wisely, cutting back selectively and making sacrifices as a last resort;
  • Maintainers – agree that, “the economy won’t get worse, but it won’t get better either” and are also spending wisely, but are more aggressive about making cutbacks;
  • Pessimists – identify with the direst predictions, believing “if you think times are hard now, next year will be worse” and are cutting back wherever possible and hunting tirelessly to find deals.

“Optimists, maintainers and pessimists are each weathering the recession in unique ways, but all three groups have made obvious behavioral and attitudinal changes and many admit they intend to prolong the use of their new methods,” stated IRI Consulting and Innovation president Thom Blischok. “We believe the Downturn Generation will continue their current behavior patterns until they have regained confidence in the U.S. economy. Interestingly, shoppers looked for a return of ‘stability’ as a signal that the economy is pulling out of the recession, in particular, ‘stability’ across gas, food and energy prices, as well as home values.”

Nearly 64% of shoppers characterize their financial condition as a little or a lot worse off than last year; approximately 30% believe their finances will be a little or a lot better one year from now. As many as 70% of shoppers note they have less savings than they used to, while an equally significant 71% agree they have less total wealth.

Even though gas prices have declined as much as 50% from the highs of fall 2008, 73% of surveyed shoppers state rising gas prices “Impacted” or “Strongly Impacted” their financial situation during the past six months. In addition, 75% note rising food prices “Impacted” or “Strongly Impacted” their financial situation, even though food prices have largely leveled off or declined since summer 2008.

Shoppers’ weakened financial conditions are profoundly affecting how they shop and what they buy. More than 69% say they are more likely to look through retailer ads for deals, nearly 82% are more likely to look for sale prices once in the store and just under two-thirds of consumers say price is becoming more important than convenience in brand purchases.

“Financial pressures are causing shoppers to give up favorite brands, buy smaller quantities of preferred items or postpone non-essential purchases for entertainment in order to save money for their most important needs,” Blischok said. “Additionally, between 30% to 47% of consumers are buying less healthy products, and fewer fresh produce and organic items. This is a fundamental shift from the trends we noted before the economic downturn.”

New approaches identified include consumers turning to the plethora of information available on the Internet to help prepare for purchases, clip online coupons and research reviews, commentary and opinions on products and services before making a purchasing decision. In fact, more than 44% of shoppers are using online resources to find coupons today, and 55% of them plan to continue this practice into the future.

Low prices and sale items continue to dominate shopper decisions at stores, and consumers are increasingly collaborating with friends, family and neighbors to share information, split membership costs and divide bulk goods purchased at a lower cost. Approximately 59% visit multiple stores for the lowest prices, and 42% of those shoppers will continue to do so into the future. Almost one-third of consumers are making bulk purchases with others not in their households to secure low unit prices, and 35% of those shoppers intend to continue doing so.

Consumers are also cutting back on their healthcare costs, opting to treat themselves at home versus visiting a doctor and increasing their use of over-the-counter medications. Nearly 44% of surveyed consumers are trading their doctor for information on the Internet and half of those shoppers will use this strategy in the future.

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Obama administration mobilizes flu meds, declares public health emergency

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON The Obama administration mobilized government stockpiles of flu medicines Sunday afternoon, declaring a public health emergency, following an update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier in the morning that confirmed 20 U.S. cases of swine flu to date.

“President [Barack] Obama is very concerned about the recent cases of swine flu that have been identified in the United States, as well as the outbreak in Mexico,” stated John Brennan, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, during a special press conference Sunday afternoon. “At this point a top priority is to ensure that communication is robust and that medical surveillance efforts are fully activated. This will enable both the rapid identification and broad notification of any new cases that may occur in the U.S., as well as in Mexico.”

A public health emergency was declared by the Department of Health and Human Services as a way to free up federal, state, and local agencies and their resources for prevention and mitigation. “It allows us to use medication and diagnostic tests that we might not otherwise be able to use, particularly on very young children; and it releases funds for the acquisition of additional antivirals,” Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security, told reporters Sunday.

The government currently has approximately50 million treatment courses of antiviral drugs — Tamiflu and Relenza — in the strategic national stockpile, Napolitano said. “We are releasing 25% of those courses, making them available to all of the states, but particularly prioritizing the states where we already have confirmed incidents of the flu. In addition, the Department of Defense has procured and strategically prepositioned 7 million treatment courses of Tamiflu.”

The government expects the number of swine-flu related cases to grow from the initial 20 identified so far.

“As we look for cases of swine flu, we are seeing more cases of swine flu,” stated Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC. “We expect to see more cases of swine flu.”

In New York City, where there’s been a cluster of swine-flu related disease in a school, that school has been closed for Monday, Besser reported.

“There’s a similar situation in Texas,” he said. “If there are other communities where we saw cases in a school, we would be recommending that they take those actions as well.”

Besser noted that the swine flu outbreak in the United States has been relatively mild — of the 20 cases identified, 19 have recovered and only one person has been hospitalized.

“What we know about this virus is it looks to be the same virus as is causing the situation in Mexico. And given the reports out of Mexico, I would expect that over time we’re going to see more severe disease in this country,” Besser cautioned.

As part of its response, CDC is already moving forward on the possible development of a vaccine.

“We’ve created that seed stock, we’ve identified that virus, and discussions are underway so that should we decide to work on manufacturing a vaccine, we can work towards that goal very quickly,” Besser said.

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Study shows drinking diet soda may inhibit calcium stones

BY Michael Johnsen

LINTHICUM, Md. Patients with stone disease could benefit from drinking diet soda, according to new research from the University of California, San Francisco.

The research suggests that the citrate and malate content in commonly consumed sodas may be sufficient to inhibit the development of calcium stones.

Increased alkalinity is proven to augment citraturia, a known factor for calcium stones. Malate increases the amount of alkali delivered. Researchers measured the citrate and malate content of 15 popular diet sodas. The researchers found that Diet Sunkist Orange contained the greatest amount of total alkali and Diet 7-Up had the greatest amount of citrate as alkali.

“This study by no means suggests that patients with recurrent kidney stones should trade in their water bottles for soda cans,” stated Anthony Smith, spokesman for the American Urological Association. “However, this study suggests instead that patients with stone disease who do not drink soda may benefit from moderate consumption.”

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