Grocery shopping evolves in light of tight economy
During the depression of the ’30s, many people frequented bread lines or soup kitchens to get their daily meals. These days, few Parkites expect to find themselves in such dire straits. However, as portfolios and retirement funds deplete, people are reconsidering which food items they toss into the cart.
"People are watching what they buy," says Mike Holm, owner of The Market at Park City. Holm and other independent food vendors in Park City agree that people are buying just the necessities cereal, bread, produce — and cutting back on extras like candy, ice cream, soda and beer.
Despite downward buying trends and rising prices, "People in Park City aren’t in a panic stage," says Holm. The Market, which is privately owned, has been able to retain its buying power and keep its prices as low as possible, he says.
At Anaya’s Food Market in Park City, owner Gil Anaya says that his customers are not spending as much as they used to. A lot of the regulars have been laid off or lost their jobs, and three or four people per day come in asking if he will hire them, says Anaya. Although he tries to keep prices down as much as possible, Anaya says shipping prices have increased by at least 20 percent in recent months. He doesn’t anticipate major improvements in sales through the coming months.
Park City residents are good about buying local and supporting small businesses, says Jen Rattray, owner of Fairweather Natural Foods. She says business at her natural and organic food store has remained pretty steady throughout the shoulder season. Rattray attributes her business’s prosperity to a continual influx of new customers in conjunction with a loyal fan base.
In addition, people who live in town are thinking twice about a gas-guzzling drive to Kimball Junction for a quick meal or dropping considerable cash for lunch at one of Park City’s high-end restaurants. "Higher-end spending is the first thing to go out the window," says Rattray, referring to tough economic times. She says she’s noticed a downward trend in pricey skin care and supplements, but overall sales haven’t suffered. Rattray is more worried about organic farmers, who she says are having a more difficult time than business owners due to rising production and shipping costs.
Vendors at the Park City Farmers’ Market say they haven’t felt the effect of the economic downturn this season. Tracy Beckstrom of Beckstrom Farms has been selling produce at the market for the past four years. "People want fresh fruits and vegetables, and they’re willing to pay," he says. Beckstrom says people buy from him rather than grocery stores because fruits and veggies "just taste better when they haven’t been picked so green and sat on a truck for two or three weeks."
Volker Ritzinger of Volker’s Bakery echoes the opinion that farmers’ markets haven’t suffered. In fact, he says he’s sold about 20 percent more this year than last year. Ritzinger sells his fresh-baked bread, dips and pastries at 20 markets around the state. "If anything, the economy’s made everyone come out to local markets more because people are cooking at home rather than eating out," he says. "People like the fact that you can talk to the person who actually makes the food."
Rose Kaszuba of Silver Rose Bakery says last week was one of her best weeks ever. She says that her success is the result of a loyal customer base that supports the vendors week after week, even in rain or snow. Chad Midgley of Chad’s Produce, who has been selling veggies and herbs at the Park City market for six years, agrees that the set clientele makes a big difference. He acknowledges that people have been more money-conscious this season, but says that with extra effort put into pushing the product, this year has been the best yet in terms of sales.
Some vendors have, however, experienced a dip in wholesale markets. Agi Habellei of Agi’s Raw Foods says that her wholesaler, Good Earth Natural Foods, has noticeably cut back on orders in recent months.
According to the Los Angeles Times, natural and organic retailers are feeling the crunch of tightened wallets more than their commercial counterparts. Organic foods are more expensive than non-organic fare, and for those who are not do-or-die organic eaters, fair trade, ethically-cultivated selections may be first in line for the chopping block.
According to the Baltimore Business Journal, Whole Foods Markets, which bought out competitor Wild Oats last year, reported in August that third quarter profits had dropped 30 percent. The chain has delayed store openings and trimmed the number of new stores scheduled to open by half, according to the journal.
For all food stores, an unfortunate corollary to diminished spending is surging transportation and shipping costs that drive up food prices. Fuel surcharges trickle down and must be absorbed by vendors and consumers, says Holm. However, as fuel prices gradually decrease, food prices are expected to stabilize.
The full impact of the economic downturn may not hit Park City until this winter, when the influx of tourists has the power to either bolster or bust revenues in every industry. Holm says he’s concerned about the tourist season, which is a large part of The Market’s livelihood. He hopes that people who take ski vacations are not cutting their trips this year. For local grocers, the most they can do at this point is watch and wait.
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Court report: Week of June 22