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Consumers Say the R Word

Are you listening Ben Bernanke? Hear that, you talking heads on CNBC?

Consumers think we're in a recession. So put away your formulas and your spin, because they didn't work anyway. A new study shows that 86% of U.S. consumers believe the country is currently in a recession. I don't know about you, but a number like that captures my attention. The online survey of 1,000 people was conducted by The Nielsen Company, which has proven itself to be a pretty reliable arbiter of public opinion.

Over the next six months, the economy ranked No. 1 in the Biggest Concern department, with 35% of respondents saying so. Some 15% said debt would be their top concern. Perhaps the White House should read these numbers, too. International affairs, like war and terrorism, ranked near the bottom of the list (as did global warming).

David Parma, Nielsen's global head of customized research, summarized the national mood perfectly when he said, “Even if we’re not officially in a recession, consumers certainly feel like we’re in one.”

And they're holding on to whatever cash they have left after essential expenses. Roughly 41% of those polled say they're using spare funds to pay off debt, while another 36% is socking it away into savings. Twenty-four percent freely admitted, "I have no spare cash."

The Nielsen study didn't ask any specific questions about changes in food shopping behavior, but there's enough anecdotal information out there to support the study's findings. One report that caught my eye was from Hormel Foods, the meat processor: Sales of Spam luncheon meat are up nearly 11% since the economy started tanking. The average price of a 12-ounce can is $2.62.