Prices of basic food ingredients outpaced prices of more convenient foods but with little impact on basic ingredient spending

A chart showing the quarterly prices of foods by level of covenience, years 1999 to 2010.

Beginning in 2004, prices of basic food ingredients purchased in grocery stores grew faster than prices of ready-to-eat meals and snacks purchased in grocery stores. Basic ingredients are raw or minimally processed foods, such as milk, dried beans, and fresh meat, used in producing a meal or snack. Ready-to-eat meals and snacks, such as refrigerated entrees and side dishes, yogurt, and candy, require no preparation beyond opening a container. A recent ERS analysis found that between 1999 and 2010, spending by a typical American household on basic ingredients was not as responsive to these price changes as spending on ready-to-eat meals and snacks. In the first quarter of 1999, 5.2 percent of the average food budget was spent on basic ingredients and 18.0 percent on ready-to-eat meals and snacks. By the fourth quarter of 2007, the share of total food expenditures spent on basic ingredients remained fairly constant but increased during the 2007-09 recession. The share of total food expenditures spent on ready-to-eat meals and snacks, on the other hand, steadily declined to 17.1 percent before rising back to 1999 levels during and following the 2007-09 recession. This chart appears in the ERS report, U.S. Households’ Demand for Convenience Foods, July 29, 2016.

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