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Consumers across political spectrum share food pricing frustrations

Maria Kalaitzandonakes

URBANA, Ill. — In his State of the Union address last week, President Biden touched on a topic close to the hearts of U.S. consumers: food prices. In this election year, we can expect high food costs to come up repeatedly, with candidates from both parties invoking price gouging, shrinkflation, and corporate greed. But who do consumers blame? And how do political leanings shift those opinions? A University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign economist explains. 

“Although economists are happy that inflation has cooled, consumers are still really frustrated with high food prices. We’re seeing increasing discussion of the issue in this election year because it is so top of mind for consumers, and therefore for voters,” said Maria Kalaitzandonakes, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at Illinois. 

“Biden said in his State of the Union address that food companies are overcharging consumers and that he’s going to address shrinkflation — the practice of charging the same price, or more, for less product,” she added. “We wondered, do consumers believe companies are to blame for high prices? How do they feel about firm size in the food system? We asked these questions in our regular Gardner Food and Agricultural Policy Survey to try and understand how consumers feel about these issues.”

Kalaitzandonakes and coauthors Jonathan Coppess, a professor in ACE, and Brenna Ellison, Purdue University, utilized an online survey of 1,035 people recruited to match the U.S. population’s demographic characteristics to learn which players in the food system consumers feel are “too big,” which groups they blame for overcharging, and how consumers’ think about firm size in relation to measures of food quality, including sustainability, food safety, affordability, and more. They also asked for respondents’ political affiliations. The survey results are presented in a recent farmdoc article, “Sizing up the food system: US consumers’ perceptions of food system firm sizes and pricing.”

Read the rest of the story in ACES News from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

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Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.