The received wisdom is that in a recession, people cut back on discretionary spend – no more plasma TVs, fancy holidays, new cars. As far as food and drink goes, they may shop smarter, but they don’t reduce their outlay significantly – indeed, factor in food inflation and for all the promotional efforts of the big four, they can’t.

This week, however, we reveal the findings of a consumer survey that will disabuse anyone of the notion grocery can remain immune to the economic shit storm. The survey for The Grocer by Harris Interactive shows the extent to which shoppers have already been forced to scale back on core grocery. A whopping 84% say their shopping habits have been hit by the credit crunch. One in five have reduced the amount they spend on alcohol in the past six months; 18% have cut their spend on confectionery and 12% their outlay on meat.

What will this mean for the future of Fairtrade, organic and locally sourced goods? The omens don’t look good. When asked what concerned them most, 54% of shoppers answered ‘price’, while just 21% said ‘healthy eating’, 7% ‘local sourcing’ and a paltry 3% apiece ‘ethical’ and ‘organic’. Concerns about quality, ethics and the environment have flown out the window. No one cares about obesity any more, or suppliers in developing countries, or animal welfare. All that matters is cost.

So who’ll benefit? Clearly the discounters – though nowhere near to the degree some analysts have suggested. They just don’t have the scale, though Tesco’s decision to launch discounter ranges is looking increasingly astute in light of the number of consumers who admit they’re shopping more frequently at discounters (29%) and less often at supermarkets and c-stores (19% and 27%). More are also shopping on promotion and, rightly or wrongly, half still blame the supermarkets for not doing enough to keep prices down.

Think the price wars are already full on? You ain’t seen nothing yet.