ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editor’s Pick 2017: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

Americans purchase almost two-thirds of their calories from large grocery stores

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Americans acquire food from many sources—supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food outlets, and more. But in practice, large grocery stores dominate. A recent ERS analysis of household-level data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) found that three-quarters of U.S. households’ calories came from retail stores, with supermarkets, supercenters, and other large grocers providing 65 percent of calories by themselves. Small and specialty food stores like bakeries and farmers’ markets supplied 3 percent of calories and 6.5 percent came from convenience stores, dollar stores, and other stores. Restaurants and other eating places provided 17 percent of household calories. ERS researchers used the detailed FoodAPS data to calculate the nutrient value of food acquisitions and found that the overall nutritional quality of foods purchased at large grocery stores was higher than that of foods purchased at other retail outlets or restaurant and fast-food establishments. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Nutritional Quality of Foods Acquired by Americans: Findings from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey, released on February 21, 2018.

Number of U.S. fast food restaurants grew by 9 percent between 2009 and 2014

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

People’s access to both grocery stores and eating out places may influence their food choices and diet quality. Easy-to-access retailers and restaurants that sell less healthy foods may lead to greater consumption of these foods. Data from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas show that the number of fast food restaurants in the United States—establishments where customers generally order or select foods and pay before eating—grew from 210,692 in 2009 to 228,677 in 2014. Part of this 9-percent growth reflects the growing popularity of more upscale chains featuring soups, sandwiches, or ethnic foods. The U.S. county with the largest increase in new fast food restaurants was Los Angeles County, California, followed by Cook County, Illinois. Los Angeles County added 680 new fast food restaurants (a 10-percent increase) from 2009 to 2014, and Cook County added 426 new fast food restaurants (an 11-percent jump). Between 2009 and 2014, 163 U.S. counties saw more than 50 percent growth in fast food restaurants. This map appears in "ERS’s Updated Food Environment Atlas Shows an Increase in Fast Food Restaurants Between 2009 and 2014" in the December 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Americans began to adjust their food spending patterns about a year before the 2007-09 recession

Friday, November 18, 2016

A recent ERS analysis found that between 1999 and 2006, the share of the average household food budget allocated to basic and complex ingredients fell steadily from around 24.7 to 20.8 percent, but then began to climb reaching 24.2 percent in 2010. Basic ingredients, such as milk and fresh meats, and complex ingredients, such as mayonnaise and bread, are grocery store foods used to prepare a meal or snack. The food budget share—defined as total expenditures at grocery stores and eating-out places—spent on ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat grocery store foods followed a somewhat similar, but muted, pattern. The upturn in food budget share devoted to ingredients and ready to eat/cook grocery foods began almost a year before the 2007-09 recession and its aftermath—a time when many consumers cut back on eating out, especially fast food meals and snacks. The share of the total food budget spent in fast-food outlets where customers order and pay at a counter grew until 2007 to 30.6 percent, then declined to 25.7 percent in 2010. This chart appears in “Purchases of Foods by Convenience Type Driven by Prices, Income, and Advertising” in the November 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Across income groups, fast food largest source of food-away-from-home calories

Friday, October 21, 2016

Federal food intake surveys conducted between 1977 and 2012 reveal that meals and snacks from fast food places accounted for more of Americans’ away-from-home calories than food from full-service restaurants, school cafeterias, or other away-from-home eating places. In 1977-78, eating places with no wait staff (fast food) provided 5.7 percent of daily calories for those age 2 and older, while food prepared by restaurants with wait staff provided 3.2 percent. By 2011-12, fast food’s share of calories had increased to 15.8 percent, while restaurant foods provided 8.9 percent of daily calories. Fast food’s ranking as the largest contributor to away-from-home calories held true for both higher income individuals (household income above 185 percent of the Federal poverty line) and individuals with incomes below that amount. In all of these surveys, higher income consumers obtained a larger share of their calories from foods prepared by restaurants (11.2 percent in 2011-12) than did lower income consumers (5.8 percent in 2011-12). This chart appears in “Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating Out Trends” in the June 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

American adults who eat at fast food places averaged 2.7 visits a week in 2014

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Eating out accounts for a significant share of Americans’ food budgets and diets. ERS analysis of data from the Eating and Health Module of the American Time Use Survey provides a snapshot of which household types are purchasing “fast food” and how often. Fast food in the analysis includes prepared food from a deli, carry-out and delivery food, and food from a fast food restaurant. Over an average week in 2014, 58.2 percent of American adults purchased fast food and those who purchased fast food did so an average of 2.7 times. Couples with children were the most likely to purchase fast food (64.5 percent), whereas single-person households were the least likely (51.1, percent). However, single-person households had the highest average number of weekly fast food purchases. Men who purchased fast food did so an average of 3 times per week, whereas women who had purchased fast food averaged 2.5 times. This chart appears in the ERS report, Americans’ Eating Patterns and Time Spent on Food: The 2014 Eating & Health Module Data, July 2016.

Number of fast food restaurants per capita varies across the U.S.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Almost half of all American households? food expenditures occur in restaurants with wait staff, fast food places, and other away-from-home eating establishments. Studies by ERS and other researchers have shown that such eating out purchases tend to be of lower nutritional quality and contain more calories. The availability, convenience, and price of fast food is often suggested as a reason many Americans have poor dietary health. The number of fast food restaurants per capita varies across U.S. counties. Counties with relatively high numbers of fast food restaurants per capita (greater than 1 fast food restaurant for every 1,000 people) include counties comprised of densely populated cities (for example, New York, NY) and counties with major tourist attractions (for example Summit County, CO). Counties with very few fast food restaurants per capita are spread throughout the country, but tend to be those with smaller populations. This chart is one of the 40 updated maps in ERS?s Food Environment Atlas, posted on August 10, 2015.

Food acquisition locations differ by household income and SNAP participation

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Understanding where U.S. households acquire food, what they acquire, and what they pay is essential to identifying which food and nutrition policies might improve diet quality. USDA?s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) provides a complete picture of these key aspects during a 7-day period in 2012 by including both food at home and food away from home acquisitions. Higher-income households are more likely to visit large grocery stores (88 versus 83 percent) and small or specialty food stores (20 versus 14-15 percent) than households that participate in USDA?s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and lower-income non-SNAP households. SNAP households are more likely to report an acquisition in the ?all other stores? category compared with both non-SNAP groups (51 versus 39-41 percent), which includes convenience stores, gas stations, and pharmacies. Considering food away from home, SNAP households are least likely to visit restaurants/other eating places when compared to lower-income non-SNAP and higher-income households. In addition, a larger share of SNAP households obtain food from schools (20 percent) than lower-income non-SNAP households (12 percent) and higher-income households (14 percent). Finally, higher-income households are twice as likely to get food from work than the other two groups, which is not surprising given their greater employment rates. The data for this chart can be found in the ERS report, Where Households Get Food in a Typical Week: Findings from USDA?s FoodAPS, released on July 27, 2016.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

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.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In 2014, Americans spent an average of 9.7 percent of their disposable personal incomes (DPI) on food. After falling from 17.0 percent in 1960 to 10.0 percent in 1999, the share of DPI spent on total food by the average American has remained between 9.5 and 9.8 percent since 2000. The share of DPI spent on food away from home ?(food purchased from restaurants, fast food places, schools, and other food-away-from-home eating places) was 3.9 percent in 2000, 4.1 percent in 2005 and, after flattening out during the 2007-09 recession through 2012, reached 4.3 percent in 2014. In contrast, the share of DPI spent on food at home (food purchased from supermarkets, convenience stores, warehouse club stores, supercenters, and other retailers) declined from 5.8 percent in 2000 to 5.5 percent in 2014. This chart appears in 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 Expenditures data product.

Fast food plays a larger role in all children's diets, but school food remains relatively more important for lower income children

Monday, August 22, 2016

Federal food intake surveys conducted between 1977 and 2012 reveal that, in the 1990s, fast food overtook school food as the largest source of food prepared away from home in children?s diets. However, school foods have remained a more important source of calories for lower income children than for higher income children. The mandated cutoff for free or reduced-price USDA school meals is a household income at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. In 1977-78, school meals provided 10.1 percent of the calories consumed by lower income children eligible for free or reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches and 7.5 percent of higher income children?s total calories. In that same year, fast food provided 4.5 percent of higher income children?s average daily energy intake and 3.2 percent of lower income children?s calories. School food continued to provide about 10 percent of lower income children?s total calories in 1994-98 but, by 2011-12, the school food share fell to 8.1 percent and the fast food share rose to 14.2 percent. This chart appears in ?Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating Out Trends? in the June 2016 issue of ERS?s Amber Waves magazine.

The 30-year upward trend in eating out briefly reversed in 2007-10

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Over the past three decades, food prepared away from home—whether eaten at restaurants, picked up or delivered to eat at home, or served in school cafeterias—has become a regular part of more and more Americans’ diets. Between 1977-78 and 2005-06, the share of calories obtained away from home for the average American age 2 and older rose from 18 to 34 percent. Increased consumption of fast-food fare drove this trend. The share of calories obtained from fast food increased from 6 percent in 1977-78 to 16 percent in 2005-06. In 2007-08, the share of calories obtained away from home dropped to 32 percent and then fell again in 2009-10 to 29 percent. This period roughly corresponds to the 2007-09 recession in America—the most severe recession since the 1930s. The drop in calories eaten away from home shows that Americans economized during this time by eating out less, not just shifting to lower cost options. By 2011-12, food away from home’s share of total calories grew to 34 percent, and the fast-food share rebounded to 16 percent. This chart appears in “Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating Out Trends” in the June 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

U.S. spending on food away from home higher than on food at home in 2014

Thursday, February 4, 2016

U.S. consumers spent more for food in away-from-home establishments than for meals prepared and consumed at home for the first time in 2014. Spending at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, etc.—accounted for 50.1 percent of the $1.46 trillion spent on food and beverages by U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities. The remaining 49.9 percent took place at grocery stores and other retailers. A 50.1-percent share of food expenditures does not equate to 50.1 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 variety of workers required to prepare and serve food, as well as for buildings, equipment, and utilities. The away-from-home market, which had a 26.3-percent share of total food expenditures in 1960, 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 dipped from 49.0 percent in 2007 to 48.5 percent in 2008 and did not rebound to its pre-recession share until 2012. The data for this chart are from ERS’s Food Expenditures data product, updated on January 26, 2016.

Share of eating-out expenditures at limited-service places more than tripled during the past half century

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Expenditures in the food-away-from-home sector (FAFH) totaled $ 705.9 billion in 2013, 49.6 percent of total U.S. food spending for that year. Full-service restaurants and limited-service eating places accounted for 77.9 percent of FAFH expenditures in 2013; 50 years ago, their combined share stood at 59.8 percent. In 1963, FAFH spending made up 28.6 percent of total food expenditures. Americans’ FAFH sources were more diverse that year than in 2013, with relatively more away-from-home eating taking place in hotels and motels, in schools and colleges, and in stores, bars, and from vending machines. During the last half century, full-service restaurants’ share of FAFH expenditures fell from 50.1 to 40.9 percent, while limited-service eating places’ share more than tripled—from 9.7 percent of FAFH expenditures in 1963 to 37.0 percent in 2013. The only other sector whose share of the total FAFH market has risen during the last 50 years was food sales at recreational places, such as theaters and sports venues, which rose from 2.5 percent of the FAFH total in 1963 to 4.1 percent in 2013. The statistics in this chart are from ERS’s Food Expenditures data product.

Fast-food purchasers spend more time in secondary eating and drinking outside the home

Thursday, April 23, 2015

On an average day over 2006-08—the most recent data available—just over half of Americans age 18 and older engaged in secondary eating or drinking, meaning they consumed food or beverages while doing another (primary) activity. Fast-food purchasers spent about the same amount of time in secondary eating on an average day as the total adult population (23.1 versus 23.9 minutes) but more time in secondary drinking (76.9 versus 65.4 minutes). In addition, fast-food purchasers spent more time engaged in eating/drinking multitasking during certain activities than the total population average. Fast-food purchasers spent more time in secondary eating and secondary drinking while at work, at entertainment venues, and during travel (either as driver or passenger) than the total population average. This information is from the ERS report, The Role of Time in Fast-Food Purchasing Behavior in the United States, November 2014.

Recession affected visits to sit-down restaurants, not fast food

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Economic recovery since the Great Recession—which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009—was slow, particularly for the labor market; the 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession were not recovered until May 2014. Tough economic times caused consumers to adjust their spending on discretionary items, including their eating out habits. Using American Time Use Survey (ATUS) diaries from 2003-11, ERS researchers found that visits to sit-down restaurants declined during and after the 2007-09 recession, while fast food visits were little changed. The share of adults purchasing fast food/carry out at a counter-service restaurant on a given day stayed fairly constant over 2007-11 at around 13 percent. In contrast, the share of adults visiting a sit-down restaurant once or more on an average day declined from 20 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2011. The drop in sit-down restaurant visits likely reflects people switching their eating out purchases to lower-cost fast food options and the expansion of fast food offerings—both menu items and restaurant formats, such as “fast casual” restaurants. This chart is from “Recession Had Greater Impact on Visits to Sit-Down Restaurants than Fast Food Places” in the March 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Greater share of employed adults ate at sit-down restaurants and bought fast food

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Time use diaries reveal that on an average day during 2003-11, 19.5 percent of Americans age 18 and older ate at a sit-down restaurant and 13 percent purchased fast food or carryout food. Men were more likely than women to eat at a sit-down restaurant (20.4 versus 18.5 percent) and purchase fast food (13.5 versus 12.5 percent). The largest difference in eating out patterns was between employed and not employed adults in their purchases of fast food—15.2 percent of employed adults purchased fast food versus 8.8 percent of adults that were not employed (those actively looking for work and those who are retired, in school, or not looking for work). Income plays a role, but time constraints may be more of a factor for those working. On an average day, employed persons spent less time eating and drinking beverages, sleeping, and watching television, and they spent more time traveling from place to place due to their work schedules, suggesting that they may be more time pressured than others and use fast foods as a time-saving option. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Role of Time in Fast-Food Purchasing Behavior in the United States.

U.S. food sales evenly split between at-home and away-from-home markets

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

In 2013, spending at grocery stores and other retailers accounted for 50.4 percent of the $1.4 trillion spent on food and beverages by U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities. The remaining 49.6 percent took place at restaurants, school cafeterias, food concession stands at movie theaters and ball parks, and other away-from-home eating places. In 1960, the away-from-home market had a 26.3-percent share of total food expenditures, and its share has grown through the decades except in some recession years. Most recently, food-away-from-home’s share of total food spending fell from 49.1 percent in 2007 and did not rebound to its pre-recession share until 2012. Two-earner households and busier lifestyles have led consumers to spend less time cooking and seek the convenience of food prepared away from home. This chart appears in 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 Expenditures data product.

Editor's Pick 2014: At home or away, most potatoes are eaten in forms that add calories

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

When advised to “eat your vegetables,” Americans may also need to be reminded “and watch how you prepare them.” ERS researchers recently looked at the types of vegetables and vegetable-containing foods eaten by Americans and found that instead of eating vegetables in their simple, unadorned state, Americans often eat vegetables in ways that add calories and sodium and reduce dietary fiber. For potatoes prepared at home, potato chips were the most commonly eaten form, accounting for 28 percent of potato consumption. In restaurants, fast food places, and other away from home eating places, fried potatoes accounted for 59 percent of potato consumption. Food intake surveys show other potato dishes, such as mashed and scalloped potatoes, are often prepared with added fats and sodium. Baked and boiled potatoes accounted for 19 percent of at-home potato consumption and 12 percent away from home, and the skin was usually not eaten, reducing dietary fiber content. This chart appears in “Healthy Vegetables Undermined by the Company They Keep” in the May 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine. Originally published Monday August 11, 2014.

Editor's Pick 2014: <br>Working-age adults ate fewer meals, snacks, and calories away from home following the 2007-09 recession

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

During the Great Recession of 2007-09, many Americans experienced large changes in employment and income—changes that affected their food spending and intake. Using intake data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, ERS researchers found that working-age Americans cut back on the number of meals and snacks eaten away from home between 2005-06 and 2009-10. Working age adults’ total daily calories from food away from home declined as well. After accounting for age and other demographic characteristics, the number of away-from-home meals and snacks consumed by working age adults declined by about 12 percent and their away-from-home calories fell from 833 to 706 calories per day. Accounting for income did not affect the estimated declines, suggesting that the recession effect was not due to lower incomes, but instead to increased time available for shopping and preparing food at home. The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Changes in Eating Patterns and Diet Quality Among Working-Age Adults, 2005-2010, released January 16, 2014.

Healthier eaters are more likely use calorie information at restaurants

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Menu-labeling regulations recently released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require chain restaurants and other retail food chains that sell restaurant-type foods to post the calorie content of standard menu items. This will allow diners to make more informed decisions, if they notice and use the information. A recent ERS study, Menu Labeling Imparts New Information About the Calorie Content of Restaurant Foods, concluded that while many Americans may already be making crude choices between low- and high-calorie menu items, the new regulations will allow them to refine their choices. In another ERS study, researchers found that adults who already practice healthy dietary habits were more likely to use calorie information when eating out. Strongly correlated with a person’s declared willingness to use nutrition information was his or her Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score, which assesses an individual’s conformance to Federal dietary guidance. People who said that they would use nutrition information "often" in both fast-food and full-service settings have the highest average HEI scores, both above the national average of 53.1, followed by those who said they would use it "sometimes." The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Consumers’ Use of Nutrition Information When Eating Out.

Charts of Note header image for left nav