Hong Kong consumers are exhibiting classic recessionary spending patterns, but appear to be failing in their attempts to save money on groceries, according to a market tracking survey. The Taylor Nelson Sofres Consumer Panel study of 1,000 households canvassed last year and in 2001 found that shoppers were spending significantly less per shopping trip, but making more trips as they searched for bargains. The average amount spent per shopping trip dropped to $43 by December last year, down from $48.33 the same time the previous year, but the frequency of trips increased from 6.9 trips per week to 8.5 per week. Yet despite their efforts to find savings, the average household's spending on groceries rose to $366 a week in December, compared with $333 the year before. Account manager Duncan Tyrrell warned they were unable to supply figures comparing the total spent for each year, and that the types of item bought could change from month to month, affecting comparisons. Shoppers' efforts to spend less were stymied by the difficulty of finding genuine bargains in Hong Kong, he said, and the essential nature of grocery spending. 'People still have to eat. People still have to wash,' Mr Tyrrell said. Shoppers spent more on convenience and health products, with spending on frozen meals up 15.6 per cent and health-care items up 7.4 per cent, he said. However, spending on luxuries such as beer and filter coffee declined 11.3 per cent and 10.5 per cent respectively. The increased total spending on groceries was in spite of a 5 per cent fall in the price of grocery items over the course of last year, the survey found. Supermarkets lost sales to wet markets due to perceptions that goods sold at traditional stalls were fresher and cheaper. They also lost ground to 'personal care' stores which provided fierce competition on price, the researchers found. 'Consumers in Hong Kong are exhibiting classic recessionary behaviour. We are seeing households shopping more, not less, but they are bargain hunting, spending less per item and shying away from some more luxury items,' he said. 'However, spending on grocery items is holding up well compared to other sectors. Manufacturers will need to ask themselves whether to cut prices to maintain market share or whether they need to exploit the pockets of growth that exist.'