ERS Charts of Note
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Wednesday, January 25, 2023
The U.S. food retail sector experienced substantial consolidation and structural change over the last three decades. Market concentration, as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), is a measure of the extent to which market shares are concentrated between firms of the retail food sector at the national, State, Metropolitan Statistical Area, and county levels in the United States. This analysis includes all establishments with a significant portion of food sales that are likely substitutes for each other: supermarkets and other grocery (except convenience) and warehouse clubs and supercenters. Although the national market is less concentrated than the average State level, according to the HHI, national market concentration increased substantially between 1990 and 2019 (458 percent). In comparison, average county-level market concentration has remained relatively constant over the past 30 years, increasing only 94 percent. While national measures provide information about larger trends, trends in localized markets are likely more relevant for consumers, food-retail competitors, and policymakers. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service economic research report A Disaggregated View of Market Concentration in the Food Retail Industry, which uses data from the National Establishment Time Series (NETS) to calculate and examine the market conditions of food retailing from 1990 to 2019. The report published in January 2023.
Monday, October 24, 2022
About 100,000 U.S. public and private nonprofit schools participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which served about 4.9 billion lunches in fiscal year 2019. The majority of foods served through the NSLP are bought through typical market channels, such as foodservice distributors, with USDA cash reimbursements to schools supporting their purchase. However, schools also make use of the USDA Foods in Schools Program (USDA Foods). Schools have two options for acquiring fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods: USDA Foods purchased by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which supplies mainly canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, and fresh fruits and vegetables distributed through the USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (DoD Fresh). After school meal nutrition standards were updated in 2012, schools were required to serve more fruits and a wider mix of vegetables, including dark green and red/orange vegetables. Following the change in standards, schools obtained more fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods and especially through DoD Fresh. While there was no clear change in the types of foods chosen from 2006 to 2012, the percent of USDA Foods entitlement funds used for purchasing fruits and vegetables from DoD Fresh rose sharply from 6.7 percent of total USDA Foods in 2012 to 15 percent in 2017. Fruit obtained through AMS—mainly canned and frozen—rose from 9.4 percent of total USDA Foods spending in 2012 to 15.4 percent in 2017. Vegetables obtained from USDA’s AMS slightly rose from 2012 to 2017. As the percentage of spending on fruits and vegetables increased, the percentage spent on meat, poultry, and cheese dropped from nearly 74 percent in 2012 to 61 percent in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS report, Trends in USDA Foods Ordered for Child Nutrition Programs Before and After Updated Nutrition Standards, released September 1, 2022.
Monday, August 16, 2021
Local food producers had high levels of internet access in 2015 according to a recently released report by USDA, Economic Research Service researchers. They found that 72 percent of local food producers had internet access, either at the farm or at the principal farm operator’s residence. A local food producer is defined as a farming operation that produces and sells edible agricultural products directly to consumers, retailers, institutions, or intermediate markets. Geographic proximity of local food producers to urban areas may account for high levels of internet access. Less-experienced local food producers had greater internet access than those with more farming experience. Eighty-nine percent of first-year farmers had internet access, compared with 82 percent of inexperienced farmers (2 to 10 years of farming experience) and 70 percent of experienced farmers (more than 10 years of farming experience). In 2015, the most popular use of the internet by all local food producers was to buy items for the farm (44 percent of producers), including input supplies, commodities, and equipment. A larger share of first-year farmers used the internet to buy farm inputs (76 percent) and access price and market information from non-USDA sources (60 percent), followed by inexperienced farmers (62 percent and 46 percent, respectively) and experienced farmers (41 percent and 32 percent, respectively). This information is drawn from the ERS report, “Marketing Practices and Financial Performance of Local Food Producers: A Comparison of Beginning and Experienced Farmers,” released August 10, 2021.
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Since 2006, super stores received more USDA, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemptions than any other type of store, totaling half of all redemptions in 2016. SNAP participants can redeem benefits to buy food items at super stores, supermarkets, grocery stores, and other types of approved food retailers. Super stores are defined as large food and drug combination stores and mass merchandisers under a single roof as well as membership retail/wholesale hybrids offering a limited variety of products in warehouse-type environments. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers examined the effects of entrant super stores on the survival of existing SNAP-approved stores and their revenue from redeemed benefits. Researchers found that when one super store entered a market area from 1994 to 2015, about 0.25 supermarkets and 0.05 other smaller food retailers on average left over the first three years after entry. Overall store availability did not decline though, as the entry of one super store more than offset the loss of supermarkets and other smaller food retailers in the markets. The ERS researchers estimated that from 1994 to 2005, local supermarkets and other smaller food retailers annually lost $191,000 on average in SNAP redemptions for each super store entrant into their local market. That loss increased to $213,000 on average from 2005–15. At the same time, super stores gained much more in SNAP redemptions than was lost at local food retailers, leading the researchers to conclude that SNAP beneficiaries shifted purchases to super stores. Based on previous research showing that food is about 3 percent less costly at super stores, the researchers estimated that a shift of SNAP redemptions to super stores expanded the purchasing power of SNAP participants’ benefits by $108.6 million in 2015 (0.15 percent of total SNAP benefits and costs in 2015).This chart appears in the ERS’ Amber Waves article, “New Super Stores Slightly Expanded Purchasing Power for Participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” June 2021.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Access Research Atlas provides a map of neighborhoods with limited access to nutritious, affordable food for the entire United States. Limited access to high-quality, low-cost food may impede some consumers from achieving a healthy diet. The updated Atlas allows users to map low-income and low-supermarket access census tracts for 2019 and compare the results with those for 2015. Individuals can choose to display one or several of the measures of low-supermarket access that are based on residents’ distances from the nearest supermarket (more than 0.5 or 1 mile in urban areas or more than 10 or 20 miles in rural areas) and whether a substantial number of households have access to a vehicle. One measure considers a tract to be low-income and low-access (LILA) if it is low-income and contains a substantial number of vehicle-less households that live more than 0.5 miles from the nearest supermarket. Using this measure, the number of low-income and low-access census tracts in Pulaski County, Arkansas, for example, rose 4 percent from 2015 to 2019. Twenty-three percent of Pulaski County households lived in these tracts in 2019, including 6 percent who lived more than 0.5 miles from a supermarket and did not have a vehicle. This map was created using ERS’s Food Access Research Atlas, updated April 27, 2021.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
More than one-fifth of the 3.8-billion people located in 76 low- and middle-income countries in 2020 may not have consistent access to adequate calories to sustain a healthy and active lifestyle. The International Food Security Assessment (IFSA) models per capita food demand and compares it with a daily 2,100-calorie nutritional target to estimate long-term projections of food security and nutrition. In 2020, the number of people without access to 2,100 calories a day—the food-insecure—is estimated at 844 million. Of those, about 50 percent live in Sub-Saharan African countries, and 44 percent live in Asian countries. By 2030, however, the outlook for food security improves, even considering the income-depressing effects of COVID-19, with the number of food-insecure people projected to fall by 46 percent to 456.8 million. Of the regions evaluated in IFSA, Asia is expected to make the most progress reducing food insecurity in the 10-year period, while Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to improve at the slowest rate. Rising per capita incomes in most countries in the model, combined with relatively low food grain prices, are the expected drivers of the improvement in the food security outlook over the next decade. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service’s International Food Security Assessment, 2020-2030 situation and outlook report.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Obtaining affordable and nutritious food can be difficult for people who live in low-income census tracts with low access to supermarkets, supercenters, or large grocery stores—called low-income, low-access, or LILA, census tracts (see chart for LILA definitions). Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers examined changes from 2010 to 2015 in the number of people living in LILA census tracts by State. Over this time, 30 States saw an increase in the share of their residents living in LILA tracts. In most cases, these increases resulted from more census tracts meeting the definition of low income after the Great Recession of 2007-09. New Hampshire had the greatest percentage-point increase, growing from 9 to 15 percent, followed by Mississippi (from 27 to 30 percent) and Georgia (from 20 to 23 percent). Between 2010 and 2015, 20 States plus the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the share of their populations living in LILA tracts. The share of residents living in LILA tracts in North Dakota fell the most—from 12 to 8 percent—followed by the District of Columbia (from 6 to 3 percent) and Rhode Island (from 8 to 5 percent). This chart appears in the ERS data visualization, “State by State estimates of low income & low access (LILA) populations.”
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Limited access to food stores (supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores) stocking a variety of affordable and nutritious food can make it harder for some Americans to eat a healthy diet, especially for those with low incomes. For people who live in low-income census tracts with low access to food stores (called LILA census tracts), the quality of their diets could be at risk. Estimates calculated by ERS reveal that from 2010 to 2015, the number of people who lived in LILA census tracts in the United States increased by 2 million. Ohio had the greatest increase in number of people living in LILA tracts—an additional 301,000 Ohio residents lived in LILA tracts in 2015 compared with 2010. Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Michigan were also among the States with the largest increases in LILA population. In most cases, the increase in a State’s population living in a LILA census tract was the result of more census tracts meeting the definition of low income after the Great Recession of 2007-09. Texas had the greatest decrease in LILA population from 2010 to 2015, with the number of people living in LILA census tracts falling by 140,000. Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey saw the number of their residents living in LILA tracts fall by between 62,000 to 113,000 people over this period. This chart appears in the ERS data visualization, “State by State estimates of low income & low access (LILA) populations.”
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
While most households in the United States are food secure, meaning they have access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members, some U.S. households are food insecure. In a food-insecure household, not all members have enough food at all times to live active, healthy lives. ERS researchers examined the food purchases of low-income food-insecure households and compared them to purchases of low-income food-secure households with similar characteristics. In particular, they examined differences in the types of places at which the two household groups spent their at-home food dollars using data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). The researchers found that food-insecure households made nearly 20 percent of their food-at-home purchases at convenience stores, while food-secure households spent 10 percent of their food-at-home dollars at convenience stores. Food-secure households spent a larger share of their food-at-home budgets at traditional grocery stores or supermarkets and at large warehouse club stores or supercenters. The data for the chart come from the ERS report, Food Security and Food Purchase Quality Among Low-Income Households: Findings From the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), published August 2019.
Monday, August 5, 2019
Limited access to the healthy and affordable foods stocked in supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores may impede some Americans from achieving a healthy diet. How far someone lives from these food stores and whether the shopper has access to a vehicle are important components of food access. ERS researchers identified low-income census tracts in 2015 that also had low food access based on distance to a supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store and access to a vehicle. (See chart note for definitions of low income and low food access.) In 2015, five States (Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia had the highest shares of low-income/low-food-access census tracts (more than 24 percent of each State’s total tracts) using the ERS measure. Vermont and Hawaii had the lowest shares of low-income/low-food-access tracts—6.0 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. This chart appears in the ERS report, Understanding Low-Income and Low-Access Census Tracts Across the Nation: Subnational and Subpopulation Estimates of Access to Healthy Food, May 2019.
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Distance from a person’s home to the nearest food store (supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store) indicates the ease of access to a major source of a variety of healthful foods. However, a food store with no close-by competitors may not offer the best price, quality, or selection of products. ERS researchers used a variety of data sets to calculate distances between households’ residences and the nearest and third-nearest food stores for U.S. census tracts. Census tracts where the population-weighted center of the tract (i.e., based on where people live within the tract) was within 5 miles of the nearest food store and between 10 and 20 miles from the third-nearest food store were concentrated in the Midwest and portions of the eastern half of the United States. The majority of census tracts where the population-weighted center was within 5 miles of the nearest food store, but more than 20 miles from the third-nearest food store were in portions of the Great Plains section of the Midwest and the Southwest. This chart appears in “U.S. Shoppers’ Access to Multiple Stores Varies by Region” in the June 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Friday, July 5, 2019
In 2018, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provided meals to approximately 2.7 million children on an average operating day in July, the peak month for program operations. Meals were served at 49,795 USDA-approved sites. These sites are eligible to offer free USDA-funded meals and snacks if the sites operate in areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level, or if more than half of the children served by the site meet this income criterion. Schools, libraries, camps, parks, playgrounds, housing projects, community centers, churches, and other public locations where children gather in the summer all qualify as USDA-approved sites. Enrichment activities are often offered along with the meals and snacks. Many low-income children also obtain free meals while school is out through the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Charts topic page on the ERS website, updated in June 2019.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Some Americans and some neighborhoods have limited access to the variety of healthful foods offered by food stores (supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores). A recent ERS study examined food store access by State in terms of what share of the census tracts in each State were both low income and had low access to food stores. (See chart notes for definitions of census tracts, low income, and low food access.) States with the greatest shares of low-income/low-access tracts tended to be in the South, reflecting that region’s higher poverty rates relative to other regions. In three States—Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Mexico—more than 25 percent of tracts were low income and low access in 2015. In that same year, less than 5 percent of the tracts in New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia were low income and low access. This chart appears in the ERS report, Understanding Low-Income and Low-Access Census Tracts Across the Nation: Subnational and Subpopulation Estimates to Access to Healthy Food, May 2019.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
The numbers of different types of food stores and changes in those numbers over time have implications for the economic well-being of communities for reasons related to employment opportunities, tax revenues, and business development. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of grocery stores in the United States grew by 4 percent to 65,975, and the number of convenience stores grew by 4 percent as well to 124,879. Supercenters and warehouse club stores saw their numbers jump by 18 percent to 5,307 stores in 2014, while specialized food stores (bakeries, seafood markets, dairy stores, etc.) saw a 6-percent decline in store numbers. Preference for one-stop shopping by some consumers may be influencing the increase in supercenters and warehouse club stores and the decline in specialized food stores. ERS’s Food Environment Atlas provides a spatial overview of a county’s food retailing landscape by mapping the number and density of these four store types. This chart is from “County-Level Data Show Changes in the Number and Concentration of Food Stores” in the May 2018 issue of ERS’ Amber Waves magazine.
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.
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.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Households that struggle to get to large grocery stores may rely on close by sources of food such as convenience stores or fast-food restaurants that generally provide a smaller variety of healthy foods. A recent ERS study used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine if food shopping behaviors of access-burdened households—those that live more than 0.5 of a mile from a SNAP-authorized supermarket or superstore and do not have a vehicle—differ from households that live within 0.5 of a mile of these stores or have their own vehicle (sufficient-access households). Looking only at SNAP and low-income non-SNAP households, the researchers found that 74 percent of access-burdened households visited a supermarket, superstore, or large grocery store during an average week in 2012, compared to 85 percent of sufficient-access households. Access-burdened households did not appear to substitute convenience stores and restaurants for visits to large grocers; only 63 percent of access-burdened households visited an eating place compared with 78 percent of sufficient-access households, and differences in convenience store visits were not statistically significant. The data for this chart are drawn from the ERS report, The Influence of Food Store Access on Grocery Shopping and Food Spending, released on October 18, 2017.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Improvements in average diets are welcome developments, but lower income households continue to fall short of nutritional targets. A closer look at consumption of protein, fat, and fruits and vegetables for the three most food-insecure regions—Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Latin America and Caribbean (LAC), and Asia (minus the Commonwealth of Independent States countries)—reveals insufficient food access for the lowest income groups in all regions. The disparity between low-income versus high-income intake levels within each region is particularly pronounced in the case of proteins. Here, average daily consumption in all three regions studied is close to the recommended level of 10 percent of total diets, with SSA’s consumption falling slightly below the threshold. While the highest income decile has a protein share 20 percent above the target, the lowest income consumers are 20-30 percent below, with the lowest level in LAC, followed by SSA. This example illustrates that food security is not only linked to a country’s average income levels, but also, importantly, to how this income is distributed within the country. While average incomes in LAC are higher than in SSA and Asia, income distribution is more unequal, leaving the lowest income households more vulnerable to food insecurity. This chart appears in the ERS International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27 report, released on June 30, 2017.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Given projections for low food prices and rising incomes, food security is expected to improve through 2027 for 76 low- and middle-income countries covered by ERS’s International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27. The share of the population in the 76 countries that is food insecure, defined as not having access to at least 2,100 calories per day, is projected to fall from 17.7 percent in 2017 to 8.9 percent in 2027, with the number of food-insecure people declining from just below 650 million to about 370 million. Food security indicators differ greatly by region. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of food-insecure people, with 31.7 percent of the population food insecure in 2017. That share is projected to drop to around 20 percent of the region by 2027 as incomes rise. Asia is projected to significantly reduce its share of food insecure people by 2027 to less than 5 percent, a near three-fold decrease from the current 13.5 percent. Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to improve as well, but to a lesser degree. The most food secure region included in the study remains North Africa, which is expected to have only 1.3 percent of its population experiencing food insecurity by 2027. This chart appears in the ERS International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27 report, released on June 30, 2017.
Thursday, June 8, 2017
In 2016, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provided meals to 2.8 million children on an average operating day in July, the peak month for program operations. This was a 7.7-percent increase from 2015’s July participation. Meals are served at a wide variety of USDA-approved sites including schools, camps, parks, playgrounds, housing projects, community centers, churches, and other public sites where children gather in the summer. Sites are eligible to offer free USDA-funded meals and snacks if the sites operate in areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level, or if more than half of the children served by the site meet this income criterion. In 2016, 47,981 sites offered summer meals, about 400 more than in 2015. Many low-income children also obtain free meals while school is out through the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Summer Food Service Program topic page on the ERS Web site, updated May 22, 2017.