Eat Your Leftovers

November 14, 2008

I had occasion to have lunch yesterday with the owner/operator of a chain of grocery stores, one well-known in the Southeast U.S.  He told me that business was down, and down considerably in the last couple of months. I expressed surprise at this remark, indicating that I thought an economic downturn might be good for grocery stores as fewer people would eat out and more would cook at home — helping the grocery business.

“No,” this 60+ year veteran of the grocery industry said, “when people get scared they eat out of Tupperware.”  He went on to explain that he thought it was just a natural reaction that people hoard and save food during fearful times. During normal times, they throw that last bit of macaroni and cheese away. But, when they sense even the slightest possibility that food might be a more difficult for them to get in the future they put that small portion of mac and cheese in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s lunch.  This grocery executive did not couch his explanation in the language of evolutionary psychology, but that was the thrust of its content — a long-established natural reaction to save food for survival.  His terabytes of scanner data were telling an ancient story, of a very human reaction to this economic mess.


  1. We have a grocery supply customer here in Houston and they seem to share your view rather than that of the grocery chain owner referenced above. The Houston economy will be an interesting on to watch in 2009. We’ll see to what extent high oil prices spawned capital projects that will be put on hold now that the asset bubble has, at least temporarily, deflated.

  2. Mentioned your book and the Leftovers as part of my Consumed to Thrifty thread on ‘Serge the Concierge’

    Take care

    ‘The French Guy from New Jersey’

  3. Just a clarification / question on the scanner data. I would not be surprised if you were both “right” – that is that more people are buying food at the grocery store instead of eating out and that sales are down. This could be the case if the product mix at the grocery store is significantly different. For instance: store brands instead of national brands, Bud instead of Starr Hill beer, etc. Or perhaps even a change in choice of distributors (e.g. Kroger instead of Whole Foods). Did he happen to mention whether it was a downturn in quantity or $?

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