ROCKVILLE, MD. — Higher-income consumers are putting a new perspective on food products and restaurant services as they look for variety, elevated health and nutrition consciousness, stronger preferences for organic and natural foods, a heightened sense of ethical consumerism and a greater desire for Internet and coupon use, according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm.

"The economic turmoil that reached crisis level in fall 2008 has been a bull in the china shop of American consumer behavior, even for a market as fundamental as food," said David Sprinkle, author of the new report, ‘Premium consumers in a new economy: Food and food service.’ "Consumers who have been set back or thrust forward financially are more likely to be rethinking what they need, what they want, and how and where best to find it."

Premium consumers are changing their purchasing patterns, and such consumers who have suffered a financial setback often align in attitudes and behavior with those on the financial upswing.

Packaged Facts said the economic conditions are making the shopping landscape more even. Premium consumers are less likely than other consumers to shop at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. outlets, but they are still shifting to Wal-Mart at above-average rates. Some segments of premium consumers such as Generation X are finding fast-food fits well with their lifestyles. In addition, premium consumers use coupons more, rather than less, than the rest of the population.

Packaged Facts defines premium consumers as the top 28% of adults.