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There's been a bunch of stories crossing the wires this past week about the growing number of consumers food shopping for home consumption. No big surprise, right? The economy's wallowing, gas prices are sky high and job security is tenuous. It's not exactly a great time to be splurging at restaurants.

canbeans-web.jpgWe noted a few entries back that sales of Spam luncheon meat grew 10%, as are sales of frozen and canned foods. The Food Marketing Institute noted in a recent report that 83% of consumers are eating home-cooked meals at least three times a week. And this includes wealthier households, which the survey found more likely than less-affluent households to buy food for home consumption.

In a specific example of retailer activity, Publix has cranked up its already-successful Aprons Simple Meals program by posting more than 500 recipes to its website. The promotion notes many of the dishes can be made in as little as 15 minutes — a direct appeal to time-starved households looking to get dinner on the table quickly after a long day at work because it's too expensive to go out and eat.

Then there's news that consumers are surfing the web more often to get coupon savings. According to Hitwise, an online measurement firm quoted in The Wall Street Journal, online coupon hunting as increased 56% for the week endng June 6, compared with the same week in 2007. Coupons.com, CouponMountain.com and Eversave.com were some of the most popular coupon destinations, according to the article.

So, what's it all mean? It's a promising time to be in the supermarket business. But it's also more than that. It's an ideal opportunity to reconnect with shoppers by offering true solutions — not just in terms of food budget solutions, but overall lifestyle. Remember, people are still trying to stay healthy so they avoid those high insurance premiums and co-pays. Stay the course on wellness merchandising. If you need to, tweak the sets and selection, play with pricing — but make sure you keep whole health a focus. Your preoccupied, worried customers will thank you when this weird period of our history is over.

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