Coupons Redeem Chore of Shopping

Times Staff Writer

A record 163.2 billion coupons were distributed nationwide last year, an increase of more than 20 billion over 1983 and nearly double the number made available in 1980, according to a recent survey conducted by the Nielsen Clearing House.

The number of coupons redeemed by consumers also rose at a rapid rate. Cost-conscious shoppers turned in 6.25 billion of the cents-off slips last year for a total savings of $2 billion.

In fact, coupons have become a pervasive part of American life. The study found that 79% of all those surveyed said that they used coupons.

People were selected at random to participate in the opinion survey and were interviewed by telephone. The questions were asked of whoever claimed to be the principal grocery shopper in the household.

Least, Most Active Users

Some of the information provided by the Nielsen report included the fact that those with incomes of less than $10,000 annually, who could most benefit from reduced grocery bills, were the least active users of coupons. The most active coupon-using group were those in the $20,000 to $35,000 income bracket.

The 12% increase in coupon redemption in 1984 over the previous year is explained by the fact that 43% said that they were using a lot more, or somewhat more, coupons than a year ago.

Even though the use of coupons continues to increase in popularity, 20% of those questioned believe that grocery prices would decline if coupons were discontinued. However, there was an identical number of people who felt that food and household products prices would increase if not for coupons. Fifty percent said that they believed supermarket prices would remain the same if coupons suddenly disappeared while 10% had no opinion on the subject.

Old Birds Offer Taste--If chicken today seems increasingly nondescript then it's most likely the result of the fast-track growth cycles used by the poultry industry. Most birds are brought to market when only 7 to 8 weeks old and are not allowed time to develop to full flavor, according to California Farmer magazine.

One way to recapture that real chicken taste is to buy old chickens which are euphemistically called, "stewing chickens" in most food stores. These birds are likely to be at least 18 months old and are brought to market when their usefulness as egg producers has passed. These former egg layers are rich in the flavor components that are associated with the taste of chicken and often sell for less than broiler-fryers.

The magazine's report acknowledges that old birds do tend to be tough, but that the chewy texture can be neutralized if they are cooked with moist heat and used in soups, stews and pot pies. Apparently, using the older, less expensive birds is an approach widely used by commercial soup manufacturers and baby-food companies.

Little Salt Temperance--A review of more than 1,700 processed food items showed that relatively few products showed a decrease in sodium content in the past year. The study was conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, in order to monitor compliance with the Food and Drug Administration's 1982 policy of requesting that food companies voluntarily lower the salt content of their products.

A high sodium intake is linked with high blood pressure, a condition that affects 60 million Americans. The center's representatives claim that the sodium content review indicates that the FDA's voluntary program is not working and believes the federal agency should set mandatory limits on the amount of salt in processed food.

In the past year only 21% of those foods reviewed had a lower salt content than in 1983 while 17% actually had higher sodium levels. The remaining 62% of the foods studied had the same salt levels as in the previous report.

Some of the products with a significant decrease in salt levels include Banquet frozen dinners with a 27% reduction, Kraft process cheese spread with 28% decline and Pepperidge Farm English muffins with 34% less salt.

Foods that had higher salt levels than in 1983 include Pillsbury Figurines with 58% more sodium, Green Giant (frozen) Entrees with a 33% increase and Ralston Purina crackers with a 26% jump.

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