MORE than ever, consumers realize that time is money. An updated annual survey by the Food Marketing Institute shows that "quick checkout" leads a list of supermarket shopping priorities.
Most shoppers said they save time in the grocery store by looking for only the items they know they need. Others buy larger quantities to cut down on the number of trips, and they shop at off times to avoid crowds.
"Low prices," a winning worry for the last several years, has lost its motivating power. According to the study--released at the recent FMI conference in Chicago--"low prices" ranks third, behind "variety of selection."
That's not to say consumers aren't interested in saving money, said FMI vice president Timothy Hammonds, but that economizing "just lost some of its punch as the sole deciding factor in choosing a store."
Once they arrive at the supermarket, however, consumers still rely on conventional methods of saving money--coupons, stocking up on bargains, buying store brands and generics, and meal planning, in that order.
As consumers de-emphasize food prices, they begin to "trade up," according to Hammonds. That means that if they bought hamburger last year, they might buy steaks this year.
Although they are less concerned about food costs, consumers are thinking a little more about nutrition and food contamination--64 percent of the people interviewed said they were "very concerned" about nutrition and another 28 percent said they were "somewhat concerned."
Those to whom nutrition was most important were women who do not work outside the home, urban dwellers and westerners.
The top five concerns about food were chemical additives, vitamin and mineral content, preservatives, sugar and salt. "Nutrition is back in the consumer spotlight," said Hammonds.
Fortunately, an enthusiasm for quick meals does not preclude a shopping basket filled with nutritious foods. Most supermarkets expedite checkout with express lanes, and a healthful meal is easily prepared from fewer than eight items, provided you have flour, sugar, salt, pepper and vegetable oil or butter on the shelf at home.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: mushrooms, asparagus, crab, water chestnuts, ginger, scallions, soy sauce and rice. SPRING STIR-FRY (4 to 6 servings) 8 ounces fresh mushrooms 1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger 4 scallions, trimmed and chopped, including green tops 8 ounces water chestnuts, sliced 2 tablespoons soy sauce 8 ounces flaked crab 2 to 3 cups cooked rice
Clean and trim mushrooms. Halve or quarter if they are large. Trim asparagus. Wash it and break it into 2-inch pieces. Heat oil in large skillet or wok. Add ginger and scallions and stir briefly. Add asparagus and stir over medium high heat, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and stir 2 minutes more. Add water chestnuts and soy sauce and stir 1 minute. Add crab and stir to heat through. Serve with hot rice. Pass extra soy sauce, if desired.