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Vegetable Consumption Away from Home on the Rise

In a seemingly never-ending quest for convenience, a more affluent but time-challenged U.S. population is eating more meals away from home. As the share of total food consumption away from the home has risen over the last two decades, so, too, has the share of vegetables consumed outside the home. Per capita consumption of all vegetables averaged 445 pounds in 2000-02—25 percent greater than 1980-82—with about half the growth ascribed to the away-from-home market.

Popular restaurant foods, such as sandwiches, pizza, salsa, and salads, helped boost away-from-home vegetable consumption over the past two decades, but none has influenced this increase more than frozen french fries. Processed potatoes (largely french fries and chips) accounted for 27 percent of the growth in total vegetable consumption since 1980-82. Per capita consumption of potatoes for frozen products (largely french fries) increased 50 percent to 58 pounds per year. While the majority of chips are consumed at home, about 88 percent of all french fries are consumed outside the home, with three-fourths sold through fast food establishments.

Although most tomato products are consumed at home, about 15 percent of tomatoes are processed into catsup, of which one-third is consumed outside the home with fast foods. With the advent of extra-large sized servings by the leading fast food chains in the 1990s, french fry consumption increased by one-third, which, in turn, increased catsup demand.

For similar reasons as catsup, about 45 percent of pickled cucumbers are consumed away from home. About a third of all pickled cucumbers are used in fast food sandwiches and in associated condiments, such as relish.

The increased use of onions, garlic (used widely in sauces, ethnic foods, and other items), mushrooms, peppers, and fresh-market tomatoes in the foodservice industry has also contributed to the growth in per capita vegetable consumption. Foodservice use accounts for at least 30 percent of consumption for each of these commodities, with garlic at more than 40 percent. One-third of fresh onions are consumed away from home, with full-service restaurants accounting for 15 percent. The popularity of salad bars, various ethnic dishes, salsa, and whole-onion appetizers in these restaurants has likely helped push consumption higher.

This article is drawn from...

Vegetables & Pulses, by Suzanne Thornsbury and Hodan Farah Wells, USDA, Economic Research Service, August 2014