I have always been a comparison price shopper when it comes to clothing, fixing up the house or purchasing a car. As gasoline prices rose during the past year, I, like everyone else in America, loudly complained. But I did not cut corners elsewhere in my personal spending. I rationalized the extra expense as the necessary means to get to the office every day and stay employed.

But what is it about the latest economic environment that now has me keeping a more watchful eye on the food bill? At the supermarket, I used to rationalize price increases the same way I looked at gasoline: We must eat to survive. As any normal shopper does, I always take advantage of specials or buy two, get one free offers. But in many instances, only the favorite brand will do.

According to an October 2008 Clear Seas Research CLEARpulse survey, food and beverage industry insiders are concerned about the impact of the current credit crisis on their companies and the industry as a whole. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed anticipate a moderate to great impact on their company’s business and operations.

These same respondents expect the foodservice segment to be most negatively impacted by current economic conditions, while meat, poultry and seafood are also expected to struggle. According to one respondent, “Value and careful targeting will be more critical than ever. Consumers are still buying, but they are looking for a deal. We expect this will continue to result in channel-switching.”

I have been drinking the same brand of diet carbonated beverage for more than 20 years. One can a day, every morning. After a painful look at my 401k, I finally decided to make some cuts in personal spending and look for a deal. I bought the opposing brand of carbonated beverage for the first time because it was on sale. I’m never going to make that mistake again.

While pundits and polls herald the growth of deep-discounted retailers and low-cost brands in times of recession, I am one consumer who’d rather drink tap water than switch brands. Unlike many Americans, I guess I have not hit rock bottom. At least, not yet.

The key lesson for manufacturers is stay flexible. The economy has probably not hit rock bottom yet either, and now more than ever, you must turn on a dime to stay competitive.