Out of the recession does not necessarily mean out of the woods. In its most recent consumer behavior survey, Technomic Inc., the Chicago-based food industry research firm, found that 84 percent of consumers believe that grocery prices have risen in the past three months, and 62 percent believe restaurant prices have risen.

During the same time period, 50 percent of consumers believe packaged food sizes have gotten smaller and 32 percent believe the same thing has happened with restaurant portions.

The two main reasons why consumers think package and/or portion sizes have gotten smaller are the desires of food and restaurant companies to enhance profitability and to keep retail prices the same when costs rise; only 10 percent attribute the downsizing to improving the products' healthfulness.

Technomic also found that very few consumers noted any decline in the quality of packaged foods and/or restaurant meals.

Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, believes that the rapid rise in gas prices, now near record highs, has raised consumer sensitivity to price increases.

"Consumers are deeply concerned about the price of gas, which they expect to continue to rise. As a result, they are very likely to reduce their spending on groceries and restaurant meals and increase their reliance on coupons and deals," he said.

Goldin also notes that consumers have become more aware of total value, of which package/portion size is a key component, and urges food and restaurant companies to be sensitive to the risks of downsizing.

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