ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick: Charts of Note 2019 gallery.

Reset

Eating-out expenditures in March 2020 were 51 percent below March 2019 expenditures

Friday, June 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders have dramatically impacted Americans’ food spending. Inflation-adjusted expenditures at grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers (food at home) were 6.5 percent higher in February 2020 compared with February 2019. This same spending was 18.8 percent higher in March 2020 compared with March 2019. Comparing spending for the same month accounts for seasonal food spending patterns. Inflation-adjusted February 2020 expenditures at eating-out establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating-out places—were 39.3 percent lower than February 2019 expenditures. March 2020 food-away-from-home spending was 51.0 percent lower than March 2019 spending. During the Great Recession of 2007-09, expenditures on both food at home and food away from home decreased, with the largest decrease in February 2009. Unlike previous economic shocks, the COVID-19 shock has led to a pronounced substitution from food away from home towards food at home. This substitution is in part due to the stay-at-home orders and the fact that many eating-out businesses are operating at a limited capacity or have ceased operations completely. The data in this chart are from the Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product, updated June 2, 2020.

U.S. food system accounted for between 7 to 28 percent of the Nation’s 2007 use of five natural resources

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Conserving natural resources starts with identifying where they are used. A recent Economic Research Service (ERS) study examined how much of 5 of the Nation’s natural resources were used in 2007 to feed Americans aged 2 and above. (2007 data were the latest available with the level of detail needed for the analysis.) The researchers looked at the entire U.S. food system from production of farm inputs—such as fertilizers and feed—through points of consumer purchases in grocery stores and eating-out places to home kitchens. Their estimates show that agricultural land use in the U.S. food system was 25.5 percent of the country’s 2.3 billion acres of total land. Although the study does not account for other food-related land use, such as by forestry and mining industries serving the food system, it does show that about half of agricultural land is dedicated to food production for the U.S. market, and the other half was devoted to nonfood crops, like cotton and corn for producing ethanol, and to export crops, like soybeans. The U.S. food system also accounted for an estimated 28 percent of 2007’s freshwater withdrawals, 11.5 percent of the fossil fuel budget, and 7.2 percent of marketed forest products. Air is a natural resource that is degraded by the addition of greenhouses gases. The food system accounted for an estimated 18.1 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2007. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Resource Requirements of Food Demand in the United States, May 2020 and the Amber Waves feature article, “A Shift to Healthier Diets Likely To Affect Use of Natural Resources.”

Meat and poultry plants employed close to a third of the 1.7 million U.S. food and beverage manufacturing employees in 2018

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

According to the latest available Federal data, in 2018, the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed more than 1.7 million people, or just over 1 percent of all U.S. nonfarm employment. Within the U.S. manufacturing sector, food and beverage manufacturing employees accounted for the largest share of employees (14.6 percent). In thousands of food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these employees were engaged in transforming raw agricultural materials into food products for intermediate use or final consumption. Manufacturing jobs include processing, inspecting, packing, janitorial and guard services, product development, and recordkeeping, as well as nonproduction duties such as sales, delivery, advertising, and clerical and routine office functions. In 2018, meat and poultry plants employed the largest share of food and beverage manufacturing workers (29.3 percent), followed by bakeries (15.5 percent), and beverage plants (12.2 percent). This chart appears in the Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy section of the Economic Research Service data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

The foodservice industry accounted for 37 cents of the 2018 U.S. food dollar

Friday, April 24, 2020

In 2018, restaurants and other eating-out places claimed 37.4 cents of the U.S. food dollar—foodservices’ highest share during the 1993 to 2018 period covered by the Economic Research Service’s (ERS’s) Food Dollar Series and the seventh consecutive annual increase. More eating out in 2018 was also reflected in the 12.3-cent retail-trade share claimed by grocery stores and other food retailers, which was at its lowest level in the 1993-2018 period. The only other industry groups that showed an increasing food dollar share in 2018 were farm producers, up 0.3 cents to 8 cents in 2018, and energy industries, such as electric power and natural gas, which increased their share for the third consecutive year, up to 4.2 cents. ERS’s annual Food Dollar Series provides insight into the industries that make up the U.S. food system and their contributions to total U.S. spending on domestically-produced food. ERS uses input-output analysis to calculate the value added, or cost contributions, from 12 industry groups in the food supply chain. Annual shifts in food dollar shares between industry groups occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from the mix of foods that consumers purchase to relative input costs; implications of this year’s COVID-19-related shelter-in-place restrictions will be reflected in the 2020 food dollar. This chart is available for the years 1993 to 2018, and can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 23, 2020.

Record high table egg lay rates in the second half of 2019 drove up egg production despite reduced flock size

Friday, April 10, 2020

In 2019, the United States produced more than 8 billion dozen table eggs, a 2.8-percent increase over 2018. Much of this growth came in the first half of 2019, driven by a larger layer flock—a flock of egg-laying hens—as well as higher egg lay rates. However, this growth resulted in an oversupply of eggs, which put significant downward pressure on egg prices. In response, the industry took measures beginning in June 2019 to downsize the layer flock. For the remainder of 2019, the layer flock inventory fell below or hovered around previous year levels. Nonetheless, table egg production in the second half of 2019 remained 1.5 percent higher over 2018 because of record-high lay rates. On November 1, 2019, the U.S. table egg lay rate reached 82 eggs per 100 layers, the highest rate on record. Lay rates, which have increased by approximately 11 percent since 2000, have been an important driver of growth in egg production. Several factors can affect lay rates, including day length, hen age, nutrition, disease, genetics, and flock management. Egg production decreases with shorter days, particularly during fall and winter, but this can be remedied with artificial lighting. Younger hens and older hens do not produce as many eggs as those hens of peak production age (approximately 26 weeks). Finally, advancements in nutrition, disease prevention, genetic selection, and improved flock management practices have contributed to improving overall hen health, which is associated with good lay rates. In the beginning of 2020, although lay rates continued to trend higher year over year, the layer flock contracted sizably. This tightening of supply has been met with a surge in demand, causing prices to increase in March. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published March 2020, and the Livestock & Meat Domestic Data: Production Indicators.

Farm share of U.S. food dollar rose in 2018

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

On average, U.S. farmers received 14.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2018, up slightly from 14.4 cents in 2017. Known as the farm share, this amount rose for the first time since 2011. This increase coincides with a flattening in average prices received by U.S. farmers (as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products) in 2017 and 2018, after steep declines in 2015 and 2016. A preliminary 2017 farm share estimate published last year was also 14.6 cents, but the 2017 figure has been revised downward to 14.4 cents in the newly-released updates. The Economic Research Service (ERS) uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased both at grocery stores and at restaurants and other eating-out places. The marketing share covers the costs of getting domestically produced food from farm to points of purchase, including costs related to packaging, transporting, processing, and selling to consumers at grocery stores and eating-out places. The relatively low farm share measures for 2015-18 occurred during a 7-year trend of increases in the portion of the food dollar going to the foodservice industry. Farmers receive a smaller share from eating-out dollars because of the added costs for preparing and serving meals at eating-out places, so more food-away-from-home spending also drives down the farm share. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 23, 2020.

United States losing dominance in the South Korean corn import market

Friday, February 21, 2020

Since 2010, the United States has been losing its dominant position as a corn import supplier to South Korea. Although Mexico is the largest foreign market for U.S. corn, before 2011 South Korea was a large and stable purchaser. However, the U.S. share in South Korea’s corn imports has dropped from 84 percent during the years of 2007-2011 to 46 percent during 2015-2019. In 2012, drought in the United States contributed to the loss in its corn export share vis-à-vis South Korea (and the entire world market) in that year. Yet, the main reason for the decline in U.S. corn export share with South Korea since 2012 has been that the amount of corn supplied by export competitors—in particular, Brazil and Argentina—has risen as large crops in those countries increased their price competitiveness (with some annual fluctuation). South Korea is a very price-sensitive grain importer, and Brazil and Argentina have been supplying corn at attractively low prices. The U.S. loss of corn import share in South Korea is part of a general trend of declining U.S. corn export share in the world, despite higher global corn trade and slightly growing U.S. corn production. This chart was previously published in the ERS Feed Outlook report released in January 2020.

As income increases, the share of income spent on food falls

Friday, December 20, 2019

As their incomes rise, households spend more money on food, but it represents a smaller share of their overall budgets. In 2018, households in the lowest income quintile, with an average 2018 after-tax income of $11,695, spent an average of $4,109 on food (about $79 a week). Households in the highest income quintile spent an average of $13,348 on food (about $257 a week). The three-fold increase in spending between the lowest and highest income quintiles is not the result of a three-fold increase in consumption. Rather, people choose to buy different types of food as they gain more disposable income. One example is dining out. One-third of food spending by the lowest income quintile goes to food away from home, whereas food away from home accounts for half of total food spending for the top quintile. Even with a shift to more expensive food options, as income increases, the percent of income spent on food goes down. In 2018, food spending represented 35.1 percent of the bottom quintile’s income, 13.6 percent of income for the middle quintile, and 8.2 percent of income for the top quintile. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.

Limited-service restaurants’ share of the eating-out market has grown over the past two decades

Friday, December 6, 2019

ERS’s Food Expenditure Series points to Americans’ growing appetite for eating out. Expenditures at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating places—totaled $930.6 billion in 2018, compared with the $780.9 billion spent on food at home in grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers. Full-service restaurants with wait staff and limited-service restaurants—where food is ordered and paid for at a counter or drive-through window—dominate the food-away-from-home market. Full-service restaurants’ share of the food-away-from-home market rose from 35.6 percent in 1998 to 36.3 percent in 2018, while limited-service restaurants posted a larger increase in market share from 33.6 to 36.6 percent over the same period. The share of food-away-from-home expenditures occurring at hotels and motels and at schools and colleges declined between 1998 and 2018, while the shares at recreational places and at retail stores and vending increased slightly. The data in this chart, along with more information on U.S. food sales and expenditures, can be found in ERS’s Food Expenditure Series data product.

Time to head to the grocery store?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

In a recently released report, ERS researchers used data for 2014-17 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to provide a snapshot of when Americans grocery shop on weekdays versus weekends. Saturdays and Sundays are somewhat more popular days for grocery shopping than weekdays. Over an average weekday in 2014-17, 13 percent of Americans age 15 and older engaged in grocery shopping, and 16 percent grocery shopped over an average weekend in 2014-17. The peak times for grocery shopping during a weekday were 11 am to 12:59 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 3:59 p.m. Of those grocery shopping on a weekday, 16 percent did so in each of those 3 hours. On weekends, grocery shopping peaked during 11 a.m. to 12:59 p.m., with 20 percent of those shopping on a Saturday or Sunday doing so during each of these 2 hours. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Food-Related Time Use: Changes and Demographic Differences, November 2019.

Average share of income spent on total food in the United States has remained relatively steady since 2000

Friday, October 25, 2019

In 2018, Americans spent an average of 9.7 percent of their disposable personal incomes (DPI) on food. After falling from 16.8 percent in 1960 to 9.9 percent in 2000, the share of DPI spent on total food by the typical American has ranged from 9.6 to 9.9 percent. The decline over the past six decades has come from Americans spending less of their incomes on food at home (food purchased from supermarkets, convenience stores, warehouse club stores, supercenters, and other retailers). The share of DPI spent on food at home has fallen from 13.3 percent in 1960 to 5.7 percent in 2000 and 5.0 percent in 2018. In contrast, the share of DPI spent on food away from home (food purchased from restaurants, fast-food places, schools, and other away-from-home eating places) has risen—from 3.6 percent in 1960 to 4.2 percent in 2000, holding constant at 4.4 percent during the 2007-09 recession, and reaching 4.7 percent in 2018. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. More information on U.S. food sales and expenditures, can be found in ERS’s Food Expenditure Series data product.

ICYMI... Farm share of U.S. food dollar declined slightly in 2017

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

On average, U.S. farmers received 14.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2017, down from 14.8 cents in 2016—a 1.4-percent decline. ERS uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased at grocery stores and at restaurants, coffee shops, and other eating-out places. Although 2017 was the 6th consecutive year the farm share dropped, the decline in 2017 was smaller than in 2016 (4.5 percent) and 2015 (9.9 percent). Unlike in the previous 2 years, average prices received by U.S. farmers went up in 2017 as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products. The decline in farm share also coincides with 6 consecutive years of increases in the share of the food dollar going to the foodservice industry. Increases in food-away-from-home spending by consumers drives down the farm share of the food dollar. Farmers receive a smaller percentage from eating-out expenditures because food makes up a smaller share of total costs due to restaurants’ added costs for preparing and serving meals. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated March 2019. This Chart of Note was original published on This Chart of Note was originally published April 17, 2019.

ICYMI... Chain outlets make up a smaller share of restaurants in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Since May 2018, Federal regulations have required restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets nationwide to include the calorie content of all standard items on menus and menu boards. In 2015, chain outlets that would be subject to the new regulations accounted for over 250,000 restaurants in the United States—roughly 40 percent of the Nation’s restaurants. Eighty-five percent of these outlets were quick-service restaurants (also known as fast-food or limited-service restaurants) where food is ordered and paid for at a counter. The prevalence of chain restaurants varied nationwide in 2015, with relatively heavy concentrations in the South, Midwest, and parts of the West. In some counties in these regions, chains accounted for roughly 50 to 60 percent of all restaurants. In contrast, the Northeast and the Northwest States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana were less chain-dominated in 2015. Restaurant-goers in places with relatively few chain restaurants may have less exposure to calorie information about restaurant foods and beverages. This map appears in the September 2018 ERS report, America’s Eating Habits: Food Away From Home. This Chart of Note was originally published March 25, 2019.

U.S. spending on food away from home outpaced food-at-home spending in 2018

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities spent $1.71 trillion on food and beverages in 2018. Spending at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating places—accounted for 54.4 percent of these expenditures, and the remaining 45.6 percent took place at grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers. A 54.4-percent share of food expenditures does not equate to 54.4 percent of food quantities, as food purchased away from home is generally higher priced than food prepared at home. Food-away-from-home outlets incur costs for the workers required to prepare and serve food, as well as for buildings, equipment, and utilities. The away-from-home market, which accounted for about one-third of total food expenditures 50 years ago (33.8 percent in 1968), has grown through the decades, except in some recession years. During most of the 2007–09 recession, food away from home’s share of total food spending stayed at or just below 50 percent before rising to 50.1 percent in 2009 and continuing to grow to its 2018 share of 54.4 percent. The data in this chart, along with more information on U.S. food sales and expenditures, can be found in ERS’s Food Expenditures data product, updated August 20, 2019.

Farm share of U.S. food dollar declined slightly in 2017

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

On average, U.S. farmers received 14.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2017, down from 14.8 cents in 2016—a 1.4-percent decline. ERS uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased at grocery stores and at restaurants, coffee shops, and other eating-out places. Although 2017 was the 6th consecutive year the farm share dropped, the decline in 2017 was smaller than in 2016 (4.5 percent) and 2015 (9.9 percent). Unlike in the previous 2 years, average prices received by U.S. farmers went up in 2017 as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products. The decline in farm share also coincides with 6 consecutive years of increases in the share of the food dollar going to the foodservice industry. Increases in food-away-from-home spending by consumers drives down the farm share of the food dollar. Farmers receive a smaller percentage from eating-out expenditures because food makes up a smaller share of total costs due to restaurants’ added costs for preparing and serving meals. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated March 2019.

Chain outlets make up a smaller share of restaurants in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest

Monday, March 25, 2019

Since May 2018, Federal regulations have required restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets nationwide to include the calorie content of all standard items on menus and menu boards. In 2015, chain outlets that would be subject to the new regulations accounted for over 250,000 restaurants in the United States—roughly 40 percent of the Nation’s restaurants. Eighty-five percent of these outlets were quick-service restaurants (also known as fast-food or limited-service restaurants) where food is ordered and paid for at a counter. The prevalence of chain restaurants varied nationwide in 2015, with relatively heavy concentrations in the South, Midwest, and parts of the West. In some counties in these regions, chains accounted for roughly 50 to 60 percent of all restaurants. In contrast, the Northeast and the Northwest States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana were less chain-dominated in 2015. Restaurant-goers in places with relatively few chain restaurants may have less exposure to calorie information about restaurant foods and beverages. This map appears in the September 2018 ERS report America’s Eating Habits: Food Away From Home.

Prices for most baking ingredients decline in 2018

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

This holiday season, baking essentials could cost less than they did last year. A basket comprising a dozen eggs, a 1-pound container of margarine, a 5-pound bag of flour, 4-pound bag of sugar, and a gallon of whole milk cost $10.85 in October 2018 compared to $11.57 in October 2017, a decrease of 6.2 percent. This decrease is driven by lower prices in 2018 across four of the five foods. The largest savings are found in flour, sugar, and milk—flour prices are down 9.4 percent, sugar prices fell 9.3 percent, and whole milk prices are 7.8 percent lower. Egg prices, on the other hand, increased 7.8 percent or 12 cents per dozen. Due in part to prices adjusting from lows in 2016 and 2017, egg prices have been moving upward in much of 2018. However, additional savings could be found in December as grocers often offer discounts on holiday food items. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 21, 2018.

Food accounted for 12.9 percent of household spending in 2017

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The average American household spent a slightly larger share of its budget on total food—both groceries and restaurant purchases—in 2017 than in 2016. The increase from 12.6 percent of total expenditures in 2016 to 12.9 percent of expenditures in 2017, possibly reflects the 0.9-percent increase in total food prices, combined with decreased expenditure shares for savings and for personal insurance and pensions. With a 12.9- percent share, food ranked third in 2017—behind housing (33.1 percent) and transportation (15.9 percent)—in a typical American household’s expenditures. Breaking down the 2017 food share, the average household spent 7.3 percent of its total budget (57 percent of its food budget) at grocery stores and 5.6 percent of its total budget (43 percent of its food budget) at restaurants. Looking at expenditure shares over time, food’s share had been declining since 1984 (the first year of available data), when food expenditures had accounted for 15 percent of consumer spending. However, for the last 2 years, food’s share of the total budget has increased from 12.5 percent in 2015. This chart can be found in the ERS publication, Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, October 2018.

As quick-service restaurants proliferate, growth patterns mirror rural-urban migration trends

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Over the last decade and a half, the number of quick-service restaurants—eating places where food is ordered and paid for at a counter—operating in the United States grew by nearly 20 percent, from roughly 285,000 establishments in 2000 to over 340,000 in 2015. This growth did not unfold uniformly across the country. Many urban counties, especially in the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, and rapidly urbanizing counties in the Western states, experienced growth in quick-service restaurants during 2000-15 that exceeded 30 percent, significantly higher than the 20-percent national average. One driver of quick-service restaurant growth in urban counties was the emergence of the fast-casual restaurant—a category of quick-service restaurants embodying the format’s typical counter service and price point but with perceived higher quality of menu offerings and ingredients, as well as ambiance much like casual full-service restaurants. While some rural counties experienced growth in quick-service restaurants during 2000-15, others sustained losses, especially in the central United States, consistent with patterns of rural-urban migration. This map appears in “Growth in Quick-Service Restaurants Outpaced Full-Service Restaurants in Most U.S. Counties” in ERS’s November 2018 Amber Waves magazine.

The Great Recession affected food spending patterns of elderly households less than those of non-elderly households

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Elderly households (those with at least one individual age 65 or older) tend to be less affected by economic downturns, possibly because they have more fixed incomes from Social Security or pensions that do not depend on employment. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, ERS researchers found that from 2005 to 2010, elderly households did not significantly change their share of food spending allocated to grocery stores and other food-at-home retailers or their share allocated to eating-out options. By 2016, elderly households had reduced their share of food-at-home expenditures by about 3 percentage points and increased their share of spending at fast-food places, although the fast-food share remained below that of non-elderly households. In contrast to elderly households, non-elderly households spent less of their food budgets at full-service restaurants and more on food at home in 2010 and 2016 than in 2005. This chart appears in “Food Spending of Middle-Income Households Hardest Hit by the Great Recession” from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, September 2018.

Charts of Note header image for left nav