The members of the Chamber of Marketing, Industry and Food Distribution, or MIDA, as the trade group is known for its initials in Spanish, confirmed the need to present a “united front” to get Puerto Rico included in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
In March, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Nydia Velázquez introduced a bill in their respective Congressional legislative bodies to amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to include Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands in the SNAP program.
By including the island in the program designed to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move toward self-sufficiency, participants would see their monthly income increase by 56%, said MIDA Executive Vice President, Manuel R. Reyes-Alfonso.
“This would translate into up to an additional $1.2 billion for the beneficiaries and the island’s economy,” he said during this year’s annual convention taking place at the Puerto Rico Convention Center through today.
States and territories — such as the U.S. Virgin Islands — receive 65% and 112% higher income, respectively versus the average income in Puerto Rico, he added.
During the convention, MIDA unveiled additional findings of its annual Consumer X-Ray study, which the trade group previewed earlier this month.
The study found that the temporary increase in the funds for the Nutritional Assistance Program, known as PAN for its initials in Spanish, gave a needed respite to the food industry after the many challenges caused by the passage of Hurricane María, specifically the replenishment problems that affected the industry for months.
But when the boost ended earlier this year the impact on the consumer and sales was immediate, according to the study.
“This reduction is directly related to the availability of PAN funds, since its participants claimed a decrease in 11% on their monthly expenses to $396. Non-users of the PAN program saw their expenses practically unaltered with a monthly average of $474,” said Freddie Hernández, chairman of the 2019 Consumer X-Ray Committee.
The reduction caused a contraction in the island’s food category of $33 million in the months of April and May. However, MIDA executives are confident that the industry will pick up again once the additional $600 million in PAN funding allocated for Puerto Rico begins to flow into the economy in late August.
The additional injection to the program will increase the average income by $60 per month per family, MIDA said. There are some 1.3 million PAN beneficiaries in Puerto Rico.
“The consumer has become more vigilant regarding the options offered by the market. For this reason, the food industry is facing a new challenge to offer a variety of items to evolve in such a way that it makes their sales viable and how it presents the products at the point of sale,” Reyes-Alfonso said.
Ipsos conducted 1,350 field interviews during the month of March and April 2019 in the 11 regions across the island.
The Consumer X-Ray showed that the amount of money consumers are spending on groceries a month dropped to $422, a fall of 5% versus the expenditure reported in 2018. The findings also confirmed that 50% of the purchase responsibility is shared between the buyer and another member of the family.
“This is a considerable change compared to last year, when only one in three households had this shared responsibility,” the study indicated.
Online shopping, manufacturers coupons here to stay
Among the most significant changes noted in the presentation is the growing trend in the use of digital platforms to make purchases. According to a survey by digital application BUREA — which MIDA referred to in its Consumer X-Ray — the use of the internet to buy food is 10% among the total of respondents.
This represents an increase of 15% in the metro area, year-over-year, the study showed.
“Satisfaction with the online service offered by digital platforms run by [supermarkets] Econo, Selectos and Supermax, range between 82% and 97%. This can contribute to the increase in the use of digital platforms in the food sector,” the study showed.
Finally, the Consumer X-Ray showed that 2 out of 3 people interviewed — or 67% — confirmed they would use manufacturers discount coupons to make their purchases. Printed coupons are preferred over digital coupons or apps, the study showed.
Of those people who were interviewed, 21% said they used coupons they printed off a website, 14% used Procter & Gamble’s “Brand Saver” coupon book, and 9% said they used the coupons distributed by Colgate.
Consumers also said they would like to see manufacturers or discount coupons for proteins and produce — which are typically not available. This finding presents an opportunity for grocery stores to provide such discounts, said Cynthia Irizarry, member of the Consumer X-Ray committee who was responsible for the findings in that category.