University of Minnesota
College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
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The Food Industry Center

Jean Kinsey

TFIC Kinsey Professor Emeritus, Applied Economics &  
   Director Emeritus, The Food Industry Center
332 Ruttan Hall
1994 Buford Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108


On this Page:

Short Biography | AAEA Fellow | ACCI Distinguished Fellow |
Curriculum Vita | Full Publication List (Waite Library) 



February 2011

Jean Kinsey is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota, where she has been on the faculty since 1976.  She is also the Director Emeritus of The Food Industry Center where she served as Director and Co-director  since 1995.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis in 1976 in Agricultural Economics. She was named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Council on Consumer Interests in 1997 and of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in 2000.  Dr. Kinsey was President of the AAEA in 2002. She was on the Board of Trustees the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington D.C. (2004-2010) and is on the Board of Managers of PJM in Philadelphia, PA. She also served on the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and served as chair in 1996-1997.

Her research and teaching has been on topics of food consumption trends, obesity issues with food consumption, consumer buying behavior, consumer attitudes about food terrorism, food industry preparations for food protection and defense against potential terrorism, and urban access to healthy food in urban neighborhoods and the global food supply chain. She has published widely in academic journals and is co-author of a 1991 book titled Food Trends and the Changing Consumer. One of the motives behind the book was to point out a sea-change in how decisions are being made about what food is produced and consumed. The consumer driven food market is by now a full-blown reality and the Center has been dedicated to studying how this affects food retail, distributor and processor responses. These responses, on turn, affect how global agriculture is organized and what farmers produce. 

Dr. Kinsey’s other long standing interests include: the standard of living and consumers’ welfare (how public policy can help make people better off); the value and use of time; the returns on investments in human capital; poverty programs; non-tariff trade barriers; food safety policy and practice. Her other interests includes golf, photography, music, theater and travel.


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2000 AAEA Fellow

Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, 1989-1992.
AAEA's Quality of Communicatin award, Honorable Mention 1992 for the book, Food Trends and the Changing Consumer, 1991.

Professor Jean Kinsey's distinguished career as a scholar, educator and public servant has contributed greatly to expanding the field of agricultural economics from agriculture to food and from production to consumption. She established a collective appreciation for demand driven markets. In her creative use of economic theory and methods to study consumer behavior, she has emphasized the importance of asking the right questions, finding relevant data, and applying the most appropriate methods of analysis.

As a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Davis, she studied consumer' satisfaction with their household debt load under the direction of Dr. Sylvia Lane. She found that is was quite possible for consumers to be satisfied with their debts, especially when viewed as an intertemporal allocation of resources that expanded lifetime consumption.

Early research on consumer credit stared a pattern of original data collection. Kinsey has conducted household surveys on meat consumption, automobile performance, senior citizen coupon use and most recently, consumer' shopping preferences for grocery store services and supermarket practices and performance. She was among the early adopters of research methods using limited dependent variable models like logit and Tobit. The appendix to her September 1981 article in the Journal of Consumer Research served as a primer and guide to Tobit's appropriate use in the field for a number of years until the technique was routinely discussed in statistics textbooks.

Her curiosity about how economic phenomena impact consumer's welfare led her to a variety of other research topics: agricultural policy, food and nutrition policy, non-tariff trade barriers, risky behavior, Indian gambling, macroeconomic linkages among food price inflation, the consumer sentiment index and changes in gross domestic product. Drawing on the theory of time allocation and Tobit models, her early work on food consumption illustrated how income elasticity for food away from home increases with income due to both market entry and rising incomes. Later, she combined the theory of public goods and trade policy to illustrate why consumers will demand safer food and more quality assurances as their wealth increases. She laid out fundamental principles for determining when government regulations or market solutions work best to improve consumer welfare. In more recent work, she illustrated that public policy that acts to change the relative prices of foods in various parts of the food pyramid will not induce people to eat more nutritionally-balanced diets.

Kinsey was born and raised in a large apartment over a Wisconsin creamery managed by her father. She grew up watching food being processed and selling butter and cream to local customers. Perhaps this, combined with her research interests, predisposed her current leadership of The Food Industry Center, where she directs numerous research projects and graduate students studying how food moves from farm to fork. The Food Industry Center is one of fifteen industry study centers funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, each center studying a different industry. Kinsey responded to Sloan's initial inquiry with a proposal that landed this prestigious center in the Applied Economics Department at the University of Minnesota in 1995. It has given faculty and graduate students from six departments and three colleges the opportunity to study how this industry performs in terms of efficiency, productivity and customer service. It brings to the agricultural economics profession opportunities and resources to fill in knowledge about the entire food supply and demand chain.

One of the overriding themes in Kinsey's work on changes in consumer demand and food trends is to determine how these feed back to agricultural producers and processors and foretell changes in their business decisions. This concern was evident in the book co-authored with Benjamin Senauer and Elaine Asp titled Food Trends and the Changing Consumer, published in 1991 it is also evident in the work of The Food Industry Center. Persisting in this theme, she broadened the thinking and the work of the profession.

Kinsey has engaged in public policy analysis and action. She contributed to United States monetary policy as director and chair of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. As a voting member of its executive committee, she had a voice in the movement of interest rates for seven years. She was the first woman to chair this board and the first University of Minnesota faculty member to be on the board since the 1950s.

She attributes much of her intellectual curiosity and development to excellent teachers at St. Olaf College and the University of California, Davis. Her enthusiasm for professional involvement shows in her continued activity in two professional organizations, AAEA and the American Council on Consumer Interests (ACCI), where she served on the executive board and the editorial board, was elected president in 1983 and named a distinguished fellow in 1997. She was elected to both the AAEA Foundation Board and the Executive Board and has contributed to the work of many AAEA committees including CWAE and the Sylvia Lane Mentor Fellowship. She has been a mentor to many graduate students and counts their success as her greatest contribution.

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Contributed by Jean W. Bauer University of Minnesota
From The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Winter, 1997

Jean D. Kinsey, Professor of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, has made numerous contributions to the American Council on Consumer Interests and is recognized as a leader in the consumer field. To be a Distinguished Fellow of ACCI, one must have made significant contributions to ACCI over a long period of time and must be widely recognized as a leader in the consumer field. Jean has been active in ACCI since 1977 when she finished her dissertation at the University of California, Davis under the mentorship of Dr. Sylvia Lane, a past President of ACCI. She has served ACCI in many capacities President (1983-1984), President elect (1982-1983), Board of Directors (1982-1985), Local Arrangements Annual Meeting Chair (1981), Conference Program Chair (1983), Nominations and Elections (1985, chair 1986), Distinguished Fellow Committee (1992, 1993), International Conference on Research Committee (1982, 1983, 1984), International Conference Committee (1986), and Second International Conference on Research in the Consumer Interest (1997). She has served as a reviewer for the Journal of Consumer Affairs since 1977 and currently serves on its Editorial Board.

As program chair in 1983, she set a course for ACCI. She recognized the opportunity for agenda setting in international trade and associated areas. She convinced Scott Maynes to lead this effort and the rest is history. She worked with others to make contributions to the field. Four years after her dissertation, one of her students, Richard Sexton, received ACCI's 1980 Master's Thesis Award.

In 1991, she was the second woman ever to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Directors, Minneapolis District Bank. Jean is currently chair of the Board of Directors. Every two weeks her voice for consumers is based with a vote on the discount rate. It is rewarding to know that as the vote is transferred to the Federal Open Market Committee and a decision is announced by the Chairman of the Board, a voice is heard from one of our own.

Over the years we have also known Jean Kinsey for her research. Starting with her work with Dr. Lane on housing tenure and satisfaction and the effect of debt on perceived household welfare, she helped others to understand and use probit and Tobit analyses on consumer issues. She was one of the first in the field to use these analyses. She has developed a continuum of food attributes for public and private goods that has contributed greatly to the development of consumer protection regulation and the understanding of nontarriff barriers for food safety. She has challenged us to look at the Consumer Sentiment Index to predict overall consumption and has written in The Journal of Consumer Affairs on how important consumer beliefs are on personal beliefs.

In recent years she has asked questions about the tradeoffs of shopping for price or convenience. This line of questioning has driven her research on working wives and the marginal propensity to consume food away from home and her teaching in human capital and the economic organization of the household. Questions about food consumption trends formed the basis for her book, Food Trends and the Changing Consumer, with University of Minnesota colleagues Ben Senauer and Elaine Asp.

Finally, the questions she has asked during her career have led to her outstanding leadership as Director of The Retail Food Industry Center (TRFIC) at the University of Minnesota, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Center is a leader in applying the dynamics of academic research to an evolving retail food industry. Under her direction, a research team of more than 30 faculty and graduate students from several departments helps the industry's leadership stay ahead of changes and helps the industry grow more efficient in meeting the consumers' need for safe and affordable food.

Dr. Jean Kinsey is an excellent mentor to others students and faculty. She has the energy and ability to make people feel a part of the process and she instills enthusiasm for the consumer field. We welcome Jean as a Distinguished Fellow and look forward to her mentoring and leadership for years to come.