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Inflation in retail food prices has trended down over the past 20 years

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Historically, grocery store food prices have generally risen each year. However, in 2016, retail food prices actually fell 1.3 percent and fell again in 2017 (0.2 percent). These back-to-back years of food price deflation helped lower the 20-year moving average for grocery store price inflation from 3.6 percent in 1999 to 2.0 percent in 2018. Beginning in 2015, increased U.S. production of agricultural commodities, such as beef cattle and eggs, and lower energy prices contributed to the 2016 and 2017 decreases in retail food prices. In addition, a strong U.S. dollar since 2014 made imported foods (i.e., many fruits and vegetables, fish, and sugar) less expensive. Another contributing factor to low retail food price inflation in recent years may be stepped up competition on the basis of price for U.S. consumers’ food dollars. This chart appears in the article, “Retail Food Price Inflation Has Slowed Over Time,” from the July 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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.

Millennials devote more of their at-home food budgets to pasta than older generations

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

On World Pasta Day, October 25, it may be U.S. Millennials (more than other age groups) who celebrate with plates of spaghetti, linguini, or macaroni. Using household purchase data, ERS researchers found that, of all the generations, Millennials assign the largest share of their grocery store (food at home) budget to pasta, with Gen Xers running a close second. Among households earning between $22,500 and $28,332 per household member, Millennials devoted 3.7 percent of their 2014 food-at-home dollars to pasta purchases, Gen Xers 3.5 percent, Baby Boomers 2.9 percent, and Traditionalists 2.8 percent. Across generations, pasta purchases exhibited a negative relationship with income; as households become wealthier, they buy less pasta (which is often inexpensive and shelf-stable), opting to purchase instead more perishable foods like fresh meats and fresh fruits and vegetables. Millennials also assigned more of their 2014 food-at-home budgets to prepared foods and sugar and sweets than other generations—perhaps, in a quest for convenience and time savings. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Food Purchase Decisions of Millennial Households Compared to Other Generations, December 2017.

Inflation-adjusted food spending by U.S. households fell during the Great Recession and did not recover until 2015

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Great Recession, which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009, was the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, ERS researchers examined household food spending from 2005 to 2016 using inflation-adjusted dollars to make the expenditures comparable across years. They found that total food spending declined by 7 percent from 2007 to 2010 and did not return to pre-recession levels until 2015. During this period, however, households adjusted their spending on food at grocery stores and other retailers (food at home) differently from spending at restaurants, fast-food places, and other food-away-from-home establishments. In every year except 2010, food-at-home spending exceeded 2005 levels. In contrast, spending at food-away-from-home establishments declined by 18 percent from 2006 to 2010 and did not recover to its 2005 level until 2016. Thus, the share of total household food expenditures spent on food away from home declined from 40.5 percent in 2005 to 36.3 percent in 2010, before rising to 38.8 percent in 2016. This chart appears in “Food Spending of Middle-Income Households Hardest Hit by the Great Recession” from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, September 2018.

U.S. spending on food away from home continued to outpace food-at-home spending in 2017

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities spent $1.62 trillion on food and beverages in 2017. Spending at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating places—accounted for 53.8 percent of these expenditures, and the remaining 46.2 percent took place at grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers. A 53.8-percent share of food expenditures does not equate to 53.8 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, saw its share grow through the decades, except in some recession years. During the 2007-09 recession, food away from home’s share of total food spending stayed at or just below 50 percent before surpassing its pre-recession share by rising to 50.2 percent in 2010 and continuing to grow to its 2017 share of 53.8 percent. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, Measuring the Value of the U.S. Food System: Revisions to the Food Expenditure Series, released on September 20, 2018.

Farm share of retail price of head lettuce rose in 2017

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The farm share of the retail price of head lettuce—the ratio of what farmers received to what consumers paid per pound in grocery stores—was 38 percent in 2017, the highest farm share since the 1990s. In 2017, while the national, monthly average price of head lettuce at grocery stores fell 3 cents to $1.03 per pound, the monthly average price received by farmers rose 12 cents to $0.37 per pound. ERS’s calculation of the farm share for head lettuce takes into account loss that occurs in grocery stores from spoilage and trimming by assuming that farmers supply a little less than 1.1 pounds for each pound sold at retail. Farm prices for head lettuce were particularly high during the first half of 2017. Flooding in California, brought on by heavy rains early in the year, delayed the planting and harvesting of head lettuce. California accounts for close to three-fourths of head lettuce production. Reduced supplies of head lettuce pushed farm prices higher, but had only a short-lived impact on retail prices. This chart appears in “Monitoring Trends in Retail Prices and Farm Shares of Food Products” in the August 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

California leads in number of U.S. food and beverage processing plants

Thursday, June 21, 2018

In 2016, there were 35,457 food and beverage processing plants located throughout the United States, employing more than 1.5 million people. California had the most food and beverage processing plants (5,639), followed by New York (2,578) and Texas (2,252). These States were also the top three States in number of total manufacturing plants in 2016 and were among the four most populated States. California and Texas also ranked among the top four States in agricultural production in 2016. California holds an important national position in several food processing industries—including fruit and vegetables, sugar, wine, and coffee—because of its favorable climate for growing a variety of crops and other factors, such as its large ports and other infrastructure. The State also has numerous dairy processing plants to serve its large population and those of other States. In New York, bakery manufacturing accounted for the most food and beverage processing plants, followed by wineries and breweries in 2016. Bakery manufacturing and animal slaughter and processing industries accounted for 40 percent of Texan food and beverage processing plants in 2016. This chart appears in the Processing & Marketing topic page on the ERS website.

Meat and poultry plants employ close to a third of all U.S. food and beverage manufacturing employees

Thursday, June 7, 2018

In 2016, the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed more than 1.5 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 (14.1 percent). In over 35,000 food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these employees were engaged in transforming raw agricultural materials into products for intermediate use or final consumption. Manufacturing jobs include processing, inspecting, packing, janitorial and guard services, product development, recordkeeping, and nonproduction duties such as sales, delivery, advertising, and clerical and routine office functions. Meat and poultry plants employed the largest share of food and beverage manufacturing workers, followed by bakeries, and fruit and vegetable processing plants. This chart appears in ERS’s data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Organic corn prices are generally two to three times higher than conventional corn prices

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Converting from conventional to organic production systems requires the use of approved materials and practices in every phase of crop production. In addition, farmers cannot be certified organic and receive organic price premiums for their crops and livestock until 3 years after they have adopted organic practices. These organic requirements may decrease crop yields, increase labor requirements, and slow the adoption of certified organic farming systems in some commodity sectors. Organic price premiums help offset the cost of organic production. For example, organic corn prices are generally two to three times higher than conventional corn prices. Corn is one of the most widely grown crops in the United States, often used as animal feed in the livestock sector. Lower prices for conventionally produced corn—and strong U.S. demand for organic livestock feed—spurred increased U.S. organic corn production starting in 2016. This chart updates data found in the February 2016 ERS report Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops.

Recent food price inflation in line with overall inflation

Thursday, May 17, 2018

From 2013 to 2017, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food (grocery store and restaurant food) rose by 5.5 percent. This increase was relatively in line with the 5.2-percent rise in the all-items CPI, indicating that food prices were rising only moderately faster than prices for consumer goods and services as a whole. Over the last couple years, rising restaurant prices have contributed to food price inflation outpacing prices for recreation, education and communication, apparel, and transportation. Apparel and transportation prices actually declined from 2013 to 2017. Medical care and housing were the only two major consumer spending categories whose prices rose faster than food prices during this time period. Food-price inflation outpacing economy-wide inflation is not a recent phenomenon. Over the last decade, food-price inflation averaged 2.1 percent per year and overall inflation averaged 1.7 percent per year. Price inflation for food at home, however, averaged 1.8 percent per year during 2013-17, in line with economy-wide inflation. This chart appears in ERS’s data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Close to 90 percent of U.S. consumers’ food and beverage spending is for domestically produced products

Monday, May 14, 2018

In 2016, 87.3 percent of food and beverage purchases by U.S. consumers, including both grocery store and eating out purchases, were from domestic production. The remaining 12.7 percent were imported food and beverages such as produce from Chile or wines from France. Imports’ share of the U.S. food and beverage dollar has almost doubled over the last two decades from 6.9 percent in 1993, due in part to growing demand by U.S. consumers for year-round fresh produce options and increasing global trade in food and beverages. Imported inputs are used in U.S. food and beverage production, and their share of the U.S. food and beverage dollar has also risen. Imported inputs used by U.S. food companies and restaurants include both food inputs, such as avocadoes from Mexico and cranberries from Canada, and non-food inputs such as natural gas and foreign-made restaurant equipment. In 2016, imported inputs used in domestically produced food and beverages accounted for 4.7 percent of the U.S. food and beverage dollar, up from 3.7 percent in 1993. The data for this chart are from ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product.

Distance to grocery stores and vehicle access affect low-income shoppers’ food spending

Monday, April 30, 2018

Difficulty accessing large grocery stores may increase a household’s reliance on smaller stores and restaurants, possibly resulting in a diet of low-nutritional quality and related health problems. ERS researchers used data captured in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine if differences in how far low-income households live from large grocery stores and whether they own a car influences their food spending behaviors. Among low-income households, the researchers found that access-burdened and sufficient-access households spent similar shares of their weekly food spending at grocery stores (57-58 percent) and at small grocery, ethnic, and specialty food stores (3-5 percent). Differences between the two low-income access groups did arise in spending at convenience, dollar, drug, and other small stores and at eating places. Access-burdened households spent a higher share of their food expenditures at convenience, dollar, drug, and other small stores than sufficient-access households and a smaller share of their food budgets at eating places. In 2012, 26.4 percent of U.S. households were low-income sufficient-access households and 4.7 percent were low-income access-burdened. This chart is from "Distance to Grocery Stores and Vehicle Access Influence Food Spending by Low-Income Households at Convenience Stores," in the March 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Retail price changes for most food categories were small in 2017

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

With the exception of eggs, 2017 was a year of relative stability for grocery store prices. Lower agricultural commodity prices and a relatively strong U.S. dollar (which can make imported foods less expensive) contributed to smaller than average price increases and, for some foods, price decreases. The largest increase was for fish and seafood prices, which rose 1.2 percent—still well below the category’s 20-year historical average of 2.5 percent per year. Beef and veal prices fell 1.2 percent, cereals and bakery products were down 0.5 percent, and retail prices for sugars and sweets and fresh vegetables both fell by 0.1 percent in 2017. The food category with the largest price change in 2017 was eggs—a category prone to yearly price swings. Retail egg prices fell 9.5 percent in 2017, as egg production continued to recover from lows in 2015 due to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. Eggs account for 1.3 percent of food-at-home spending, so their large price swings have muted effects on overall grocery store inflation. This chart appears in an ERS data visualization, Food Price Environment: Interactive Visualization, released February 2018.

Farm share of U.S. food dollar declined again in 2016

Thursday, April 12, 2018

On average, U.S. farmers received 14.8 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically-produced food in 2016, down from 15.5 cents in 2015. Known as the farm share, this amount is at its lowest level for the period 1993 to 2016, and coincides with a steep drop in 2016 average prices received by U.S. farmers, as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products. 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. 2016 was the fifth consecutive year that the farm share has declined, though the 4.5-percent drop in 2016 was below 2015’s 9.9-percent fall. The drop in farm share also coincides with five consecutive years of increases in the share of food dollars paying for services provided by the foodservice industry. Since farmers receive a smaller share from eating out dollars, due to the added costs for preparing and serving meals, more food-away-from-home spending will also drive down the farm share. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 14, 2018.

Certified organic operations are concentrated in the West, Northeast, and Upper Midwest

Friday, April 6, 2018

The number and share of U.S. farms that are certified organic varies across regions and commodities produced. Data from USDA's organic regulatory program show that organic farm production and food-handling operations are concentrated in California (the country's top fruit and vegetable producer), the Northeast (which has many small-scale organic farms), and the Upper Midwest (a major producer of organic milk). Northeastern States have the highest share of certified organic farmers—particularly Vermont and Maine, where about 5 to 6 percent of all farmers are certified organic. Organic processors, manufacturers, and other food-handling operations are concentrated around large metropolitan areas, while certified organic livestock operations are located predominantly in the Great Lakes region. The top 10 States for organic farm sales accounted for three-quarters of the total value of all U.S. certified organic commodities sold in 2016. California alone contributed 38 percent of total U.S. organic farm sales. This chart updates data found in the February 2017 Amber Waves feature "Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers."

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