The consumer staples sector has typically been considered a defensive play in a down economy, but what’s an exchange traded fund (ETF) to do when families start cutting back on food, of all things?

According to a recent study, more American families are going to depend on food donations than ever before. In the past, 17% have had to receive them, while 29% who haven’t believe they may need to at some point soon.

Around two-thirds of Americans believe the United States hunger problem has gotten worse during the past year, reports Hormel Foods Newsroom. The rising food and fuel costs are contributing to this problem. More than 63% of Americans blame the economic situation. Six out of 10 Americans say they’ve had to cut back on the quantity or quality of food they buy. More than half surveyed said they’ve taken cost-cutting steps, such as using more coupons or buying generic.

On another note, even Wal-Mart (WMT) is feeling the pinch. The chain will cut the pace of the number of new store openings taking place across the United States. Brad Dorfman and Nicole Maestri for Reuters report that the world’s largest retailer also said on Monday that it is attracting higher-income shoppers with discounts as the U.S. economy reels from tighter credit, mounting job losses and falling home prices.

The goal of the cutback is to boost sales by remodeling stores and improving merchandise selection. Customers that would never consider Wal-Mart before are finding themselves shopping there.

  • Consumer Staples SPDR (XLP): down 21.6% year-to-date; WMT is 10.8%

Consumer Staples Exchange Traded Fund (ETF)

  • Vanguard Consumer Staples (VDC): down 23.5% year-to-date; WMT 9.6%

Consumer Staples Exchange Traded Fund (ETF)

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.