Via Stephen at Cogitamus, it appears that the economic downturn has been good for one sector of the economy---generic brands on the grocery shelves. (Also, Spam sales are up and Bon Appetit named peanut butter the dessert of the year.) The shift to generic strikes me as a big one.

The number of people switching to the private-label foods packaged and sold by Kroger Co. at its stores has been increasing. The company runs 2,477 stores in 31 states. Some of its regional chains include Ralph's, Fred Meyer and Food 4 Less.....

Based on its proprietary shopper-card data, Kroger found that 14% of its customers traded down to its corporate brand items for the quarter Nov. 8. It sells private-label goods in three separate price categories, competing for sales in everyday staples to pricier organic foods.

And that's just last quarter. I can only imagine what this quarter will bring. Last time I shopped at a Kroger outlet, I found their generic stuff mostly unappealing. We're lucky to have HEB here in Austin. They have two lines of generics, the HEB line and the Hill Country line, with the former being better quality and usually a little more expensive, though still less than the name brand stuff and often better quality. Because of this, I have to wonder if they're going to see much of a spike in their generic sales, because I'm sure people were already buying generic. (I know I was---even their paper products are better than the name brand stuff.) You never know, though. A lot of people are wed to their brand name stuff because marketers have managed to manipulate us that well, and so maybe there's an untapped market that, strangled by high grocery prices, will move over. I don't know what I'm going to do, though. I'm cheap no matter what the economic situation looks like.

Companies including Kraft Foods , H.J. Heinz and Sara Lee Corp. used the spike in agricultural grains and energy to help justify product-price increases to grocery retailers earlier this year.

Of course, the price of corn and oil has gone down, but the grocery store prices have stayed high, as far as I can tell. For most of us, that sort of spike in prices at the store means that our bank accounts dwindle faster every month than they did before, and so I contest strongly the idea that it's "fear" that's causing people to tighten their purse strings. It's probably the word "broke" that better describes the situation, and I'm referring to people who haven't seen any change in their employment status.

This item was a very telling one that gets, in my mind, to why just simply preaching at people to eat at home more often to save money and for their health might be missing the point.

Grocery stores have been targeting shoppers with more ready-to-eat meals in a bid to capture business from restaurants, which face declining sales in the current economic downturn with more people eat at home.

I've noticed this, as well, but unfortunately, most of these ready-to-eat meals aren't a whole lot healthier than something you'd get in a restaurant. What this says to me, though, is that people don't eat out so much because they want to, but because cooking and cleaning up are just time-consuming and they don't have that kind of time. After you have gone through a commute to and from work and worked all day, the last thing you want to do is more work. And that's fair. There's something sick about the idea that your average American shouldn't want a few hours to herself every night to pursue a hobby, watch TV, or read a book. I think this also explains why, as people cook less on average, there's more books and TV shows dedicated to cooking. Because there's a minority of people for whom cooking is the hobby they pursue to unwind. But it's still a lot of work. I like cooking, and I work at home so presumably I can (and I do) multi-task by cooking and working, but even with all these advantages, I still find myself leaning heavily these days on something I can just throw together so I have some time to veg out and give the brain a rest.

These are problems for which there's no simple solution. But we're in an economic crisis, so it's time for people to start thinking big.