Downturn hits wallet, belly 

As global markets flounder and members of Wall Street and Capitol Hill continue efforts to stabilize the nation’s weakening economy, Americans are turning their minds nervously to their pocketbooks. And some consumers may find relief from financial worries in a product as small as a kidney bean.

Dry beans like black beans and chickpeas are a cheap source of protein often sold in bulk, and just one way Missoulians have started cutting costs at the grocery counter, says Layne Rolston, communications director at the Good Food Store.

“We definitely have seen more people shopping in our bulk department lately as all this bad news on the economy spreads around,” Rolston says.

But the dry bean isn’t the only saving grace for those trying to tighten financial belts. Even before Wall Street’s recent nosedive, food distributors noted a nationwide trend away from dining out. McKee Anderson, president and executive director of the Montana Food Distributors Association, notes a reduction of nearly 20 percent in recent years in favor of preparing meals at home.

“It could be a change in the American public’s taste, but I doubt it,” Anderson says.

However, Anderson warns that any trends evident now in Montana markets aren’t necessarily reactions to the current economic crisis. Trends in Montana are typically well behind trends in national markets.

That doesn’t mean the economic climate isn’t giving locals indigestion. Anderson’s comment that more people are turning to grocery store shelves is evident at Missoula’s Orange Street Food Farm. Sales storewide have increased noticeably as people opt to cook their own meals, says store manager Paul Mori.

And at the Good Food Store, talk is focused primarily on the latest national headlines and how the store can help. Rolston says the store is developing strategies for customers to save money. A once-a-month “Tour and Taste,” for instance, will show people less expensive meal alternatives, like cheaper cuts of meat and how to prepare them.

“We’re very aware and understanding of the pressure people are feeling now,” Rolston says. “If they ask us, we’ll help.”
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