And as consumers re-evaluate their spending, knowing which products are likely to be hit hardest could help give food companies a competitive edge.
Recent analysis showed that consumers are shifting blame for obesity problems in the US on to food manufacturers, saying they should provide healthier products and holding them more responsible than fast-food firms.
At the same time obesity and unhealthy eating habits have been linked to low incomes and, as consumers cut back on spending, they are expected to turn to cheaper food options that are high in sugar and saturated fats. This is at the expense of items such as fresh fruit and vegetables.
But good value does not necessarily mean high fat or sugar content as manufacturers can offer recession proof products without the recession pounds.
For example, the food giant Chiquita Brands International claimed that bananas are “recession resistant” after analyzing its 2008 results, according to reports last week.
Its chief executive, Fernando Aguirre, said bananas are “a staple and a great value compared with other food items”, selling for an average 30 US cents (20p in the UK).
In the meat category, figures from a Packaged Facts report show that chicken is seeing strong growth compared to other meats, as the perception that it is more healthy and affordable appears to be winning consumers over.
Also niche health markets are expected to ride out the recession because of their “ultra-loyal” customer base, according to New Nutrition Business.
It said that the mass consumer won’t pay a premium in hard times but the health conscious niche will, and welcomes new health concepts that help maintain wellness.
On the other side of the coin, chocolate, which has been hailed as virtually immune to recession as people continue to reach for small indulgences, may not be as resilient as once thought.
The International Cocoa Organisation recently warned that the outlook for 2009 chocolate consumption is still uncertain and a likely reflection of this was that cocoa processing margins have been declining in recent months.
Likewise, in its latest cocoa market report, chocolate and cocoa manufacturer Barry Callebaut said that “uncertain sales in light of the economic crisis will probably lead to a lower demand for cocoa products in 2009”.
Other food categories that are expected to be virtually immune to the economic storm include French fries, candy and beer, while those expected to suffer include organics and carbonated beverages.
But in an interview the Financial Post, published last week, Wallace McCain who founded the Canadian global giant McCain Foods, famous for its French fries, said that the basics would be the last to suffer.
When asked if French fries are recession proof he gave a resounding yes and said: “The last thing you give up is food. Going to the rink you'll give up buying an extra cup of coffee, but you gotta eat.”
“I just think if this country goes to hell, we'd be the last one down.”