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Inflation in grocery store food prices varies across U.S. metropolitan areas

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Between 2009 and 2018, retail food prices rose an average of 1.2 percent per year nationally. However, food-at-home price inflation varies by geographic location. Over the same 10-year period, retail food prices rose an average of 1.7 percent per year in St. Louis, while prices in Dallas rose on average 0.6 percent per year. Averaging 10 years of annual data smooths out year-to-year “noise”—volatile price swings that obscure the bigger picture of relative food price increases by city. Different rates of change in transportation costs and retail overhead expenses, such as labor and rent, can explain some of the variation among cities because cost increases are often passed along to the consumer in the form of higher grocery prices. Furthermore, differences in consumer food preferences among cities for specific foods may help explain variation in inflation rates. For example, a city whose residents strongly preferred foods with little price inflation (such as pork and poultry at 1.4 and 1.5 percent per year, respectively, in 2009–2018) might have had a lower 10-year average inflation level than a city whose residents purchased more beef or veal, which increased an average of 3.4 percent per year in 2009–2018. This chart appears in an ERS data visualization, Food Price Environment: Interactive Visualization, released March 2019.

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.

Food stores—except specialized food stores—grew in number between 2009 and 2014

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.

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.

Counties with a higher number of independent grocery stores per capita are concentrated in rural areas

Friday, February 9, 2018

To examine the number and location of independent grocery stores, a recent ERS study used Nielsen’s TDLinx data on grocery stores—stores with a full line of major food departments and at least $1 million in sales. Independent grocery stores are those whose owners operate fewer than four stores. In 2015, 21,510 independent grocery stores generated $70 billion in sales, or 11 percent of U.S. grocery sales. The study found that independent grocery stores outnumber chain grocery stores in remote rural counties not adjacent to urban counties. In 2015, remote rural counties had an average of 2.1 independent grocery stores compared with 1.9 chain grocery stores. Of the 319 U.S. counties with more than three independent grocery stores for every 10,000 residents, 91 percent of them were remote rural counties or rural counties adjacent to an urban county. Close to half of these 319 counties were located in Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. This map appears in "Despite Slow Growth From 2005 to 2015, Independent Grocery Stores Remain Important for Rural Communities" from the February 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Composition of top U.S. food retailers shifted in 2016

Thursday, January 11, 2018

In 2016, the share of U.S. grocery sales held by the largest four and eight food retailers rose for the fourth consecutive year. Sales by the 20 largest food retailers totaled $515.3 billion in 2016 and accounted for nearly two-thirds of U.S. grocery sales. The shares of food industry retail sales recorded by the largest 4, 8, and 20 supermarket and supercenter retailers resumed their long-term trend of increased sales concentration in 2013 after decreasing slightly following the 2007-09 recession. Publix lost its spot in the top four food retailers in 2016 to Ahold Delhaize, which joined Walmart, Kroger, and Albertson’s. Much of the change in industry structure during the last few years was largely due to the impact of two big mergers—the acquisitions of Safeway by Albertson’s in 2015 and of Delhaize by Ahold the following year. Kroger has maintained its ranking, in part, by acquiring a number of smaller retailers such as Harris Teeter and Roundy’s during the last few years. Since 2013, 3 regional food retailers have joined the ranks of the top 20 due to mergers and A&P exiting the industry. A version of this chart appears on the Retailing and Wholesaling topic page on the ERS Web site, updated December 7, 2017.

Number of chain grocery stores increased from 2005 to 2015, while number of independent grocery stores showed little growth

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

From 2005 to 2015, according to Nielsen’s TDLinx data, the number of grocery stores in the United States grew from 46,735 to 50,056—an increase of 7.1 percent. Grocery stores are defined as self-service stores with a full line of major food departments and at least $1 million in sales. At the onset of the Great Recession of 2007-09, the number of independent grocery stores—those whose owners operate fewer than four stores at one time—flattened out at around 21,800 stores. The remaining grocery stores, or chain stores, grew in number by about 2,700 stores to 28,546 in 2015. As a result, independent stores’ share of total stores declined from 46 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2015. Independent grocery stores are generally smaller than chain stores but are often the only grocery stores found in underserved areas. ERS analysis found that over the decade, both independent and chain stores increased in counties with population growth, although chain stores were more responsive. This chart is from the ERS report, Independent Grocery Stores in the Changing Landscape of the U.S. Food Retail Industry, released on November 22, 2017.

Households shopping at supermarkets, supercenters, and warehouse club stores have highest healthy basket scores

Monday, May 8, 2017

Over the past two decades, some store formats—including supercenters, dollar stores, and warehouse club stores—have increased their share of Americans’ spending on “at-home food”—food and beverages purchased from retail stores. Shifts between store formats could have implications for shopping patterns. A recent ERS study computed “healthy basket” scores for monthly at-home food and beverage purchases. The higher the score, the closer a household’s purchases aligned with healthy-diet expenditure shares. Baskets were categorized by the format accounting for the household’s largest share of food expenditures. Scores were highest for households predominantly shopping at warehouse club stores (8.3), supermarkets (8.2), and supercenters (8.0). Household food baskets dominated by purchases from drug stores, convenience stores, and dollar stores had the least healthful purchases. Over 2008-12, an average of 67 percent of households in the data predominantly shopped at supermarkets, 17 percent at supercenters, and 6 percent at warehouse club stores. The other 10 percent shopped predominately at drug, dollar, convenience, and other store formats. This chart appears in "Households Purchase More Produce and Low-Fat Dairy at Supermarkets, Supercenters, and Warehouse Club Stores" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, May 2017.

Organic shares of U.S. retail sales vary by food category

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

While U.S. organic food sales account for a small share of the country’s total food sales, they exhibited double-digit growth during all but 3 years (2009-11) during 2000-14. ERS analysis of U.S. organic sales data for five retail food categories shows that the organic market share increased for four of the five categories between 2009 and 2014. The highest organic market share in 2014 was for milk (14 percent of total organic and nonorganic sales), followed by eggs and fresh vegetables (both at nearly 7 percent). Foods frequently fed to children, like milk, tend to have higher organic market share than other foods. Industry estimates find that the organic fresh fruit and vegetable category has the highest sales of all organic categories, but their share of total produce sales is smaller than for milk. The decline in market share of organic yogurt between 2010 and 2014 may reflect growing nonorganic sales of Greek-style yogurt and yogurt drinks—products that were not readily available in organic forms. This chart appears in "Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Products" in the February 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Shares of food spending at supermarkets and warehouse club stores increase as income rises

Monday, April 10, 2017

The U.S. food retailing sector offers a variety of store formats for purchasing at-home foods and beverages. A recent ERS analysis of 2008-12 data found that some formats are more popular with lower or higher income consumers than others. The study found that as income rose, households spent a larger share of their at-home food expenditures at supermarkets and warehouse club stores. Supermarkets accounted for 65.4 percent of food expenditures for consumers with annual incomes below $12,000 compared with 70.8 percent for consumers with incomes of $100,000 and above. Warehouse club stores, with membership fees and large package sizes, accounted for 10.2 percent of food spending for the highest income group, but only 3 percent of expenditures for the lowest income group. Supercenters, which sell a wide range of products and have a full supermarket, accounted for 18.9 percent of the lowest income group’s food expenditures, compared with 11.2 percent for the highest income group. Convenience and dollar stores—small segments of at-home food spending—also accounted for a larger share of food expenditures by lower income consumers. This chart appears in the ERS report, Store Formats and Patterns in Household Grocery Purchases, released March 22, 2017.

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.

Food acquisition locations differ by household income and SNAP participation

Monday, August 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.

Organic eggs displayed largest swings in retail price premiums of 17 organic foods

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A recent ERS study estimated price premiums in grocery stores for 17 commonly purchased organic foods relative to their nonorganic counterparts from 2004 to 2010. Price premiums for most of the organic products studied did not steadily increase or decrease during the 7-year period, but fluctuated. Premiums for organic bread ranged from 25 to 45 percent above the nonorganic price, and premiums for organic milk ranged from 50 to 80 percent. The wide fluctuations in the price premium for organic eggs—66 to 173 percent—may be a result of the large retail price swings common for nonorganic eggs. Organic carrots, on the other hand, had a narrower range of premiums. Organic carrots were priced between 20 and 27 percent higher than nonorganic carrots during 2004 to 2010. This chart appears in “Investigating Retail Price Premiums for Organic Foods” in the May 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Supermarket shrink varies by type of fresh fruit and vegetable

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Food loss, or shrink as retailers call it, occurs when grocery retailers remove dented cans, misshaped produce items, overstocked holiday foods, and spoiled foods from their shelves. Estimates of supermarket shrink for fresh produce were developed by comparing data on pounds of shipments received with pounds purchased by consumers for 2,900 U.S. supermarkets in 2011-12. Average supermarket shrink was 12.6 percent for 24 fresh fruits and 11.6 percent for 31 fresh vegetables. For the fresh fruits, loss ranged from 4.1 percent for bananas to 43.1 percent for papayas. Pineapples and apricots had the second- and third-highest shrink rates for fresh fruits. The highest shrink in 2011-12 among the fresh vegetables was for turnip greens, followed by mustard greens, and escarole/endive. Leafy greens are more prone to moisture loss, and hence weight loss, than other types of produce. Uncertain or uneven demand for highly perishable produce items may also contribute to higher loss rates. The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Updated Supermarket Shrink Estimates for Fresh Foods and Their Implications for ERS Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data, released on June 21, 2016.

Organic retail price premiums vary by food product

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Organic foods are generally higher priced than their nonorganic counterparts. Price premiums for organic foods reflect both costs to produce and bring organic foods to consumers as well as consumers’ willingness to pay more for organic products. A recent ERS study estimated price premiums in grocery stores for 17 commonly purchased organic foods relative to their nonorganic counterparts from 2004 to 2010. Eggs and milk had the highest premiums in 2010, at 82 and 72 percent, respectively. Organic eggs and dairy products have high production costs since the chickens and cows must be fed organic feed, have access to the outside, and be free of hormones and antibiotics. Organic fresh fruits and vegetables, generally recognized as the largest part of the organic market, had the widest spread of premiums in 2010—ranging from 7 percent for spinach to 60 percent for salad mix. Price premiums for organic processed foods ranged from 22 percent for granola to 54 percent for canned beans. This chart appears in the ERS report, Changes in Retail Organic Price Premiums from 2004 to 2010, released on May 24, 2016.

After falling in the late 1990s and early 2000s, supermarkets' share of at-home food spending has stabilized

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Americans spent $1.46 trillion on food in 2014. Of this total, 49.9 percent was spent in supermarkets, supercenters, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and other retailers. The relative importance of the various outlets comprising the U.S. at-home-food market has shifted somewhat during the last 25 years. Supermarkets had a 64.9-percent share of at-home spending in 2014, down from a peak of 76.3 percent in 1993. In 1990, food expenditures in convenience stores were higher than those for warehouse club stores and supercenters. By 1993, the reverse was true; and by 2014, warehouse club stores and supercenters accounted for 16.8 percent of at-home spending. The combined share of direct purchases from food processors and farmers grew from 7.4 percent in 1990 to 9.4 percent in 2000, and their share has averaged 8.4 percent over the last decade. Other stores—for example, discount dollar stores and drug stores—accounted for 4.9 percent of the at-home-food market in 2014. This chart appears in “After a Sharp Rise Between 1990 and 2005, Supercenters’ Share of At-Home-Food Spending Has Leveled Off” in the April 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Three post-farm industry groups account for about 61 cents of the U.S. food dollar

Thursday, April 21, 2016

In 2014, total food-away-from-home expenditures of U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities surpassed at-home food sales for the first time. This outcome is reflected in the 32.7-cent foodservices share of the U.S. food dollar claimed by restaurants and other eating-out places—its highest level during 1993 to 2014. It is also reflected in the 12.9-cent retail-trade share claimed by grocery stores and other food retailers, which is at its lowest level since 2002. 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. A growing share of the food dollar has gone to farm producers, up 1.7 cents since 2009 to 10.4 cents in 2014, while food processing’s share is down 2.1 cents since 2009. This chart is available for years 1993 to 2014 and can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 30, 2016.

Farmers' markets, other local food marketing channels show strong growth

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Local foods is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture, and the number of local food marketing outlets is increasing. Growing demand for local foods in the United States is, at least in part, the result of consumer interest in environmental and community concerns, including supporting local farmers/economies and increasing access to healthful foods. American farmers and consumers are increasingly finding more opportunities to sell and buy food locally. As of 2014, there were 8,268 farmers’ markets in the United States, up 180 percent since 2007, despite no growth in real farmer-to-consumer (direct) sales between 2007 and 2012. Local food sales may be increasingly indirect, that is through intermediaries rather than farmer-to-consumer. The number of regional food hubs, (enterprises that aggregate locally sourced food to meet wholesale, retail, institutional and even individual demand) has increased almost threefold since 2007, to a total of 302 in 2014. Farm to school programs have multiple objectives, ranging from nutrition education to serving locally-sourced food in school meals. According to the USDA Farm to School Census, 4,322 school districts have farm to school programs, a 430-percent increase since 2007. This chart is found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress, AP-068, January 2015.

Sales share of top 20 U.S. grocery retailers increased in 2013

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sales of food and nonfood grocery products by the 20 largest U.S. grocery retailers accounted for 63.8 percent of the $703.9 billion in total 2013 U.S. grocery sales. 2013 marked the first increase in sales share for the top 20 grocery retailers since 2008, when their share stood at 65.1 percent. The 4 largest grocery retailers—Wal-Mart Supercenters, Kroger, Safeway, and Publix Super Markets—accounted for 36.4 percent of total grocery sales in 2013, a 1.7-percentage point drop since 2008. Wal-Mart Supercenters maintained their number one spot, with grocery sales that were 53 percent higher than second-place Kroger. Kroger’s 2013 acquisition of Harris Teeter and the pending 2014 sale of Safeway to Albertson’s—along with the continued sales growth of supercenters such as Wal-Mart and Target—are likely to increase the sales shares of the largest U.S. grocery retailers during the next few years. This chart appears in “Slow Sales Growth and Increased Company Acquisitions Impact U.S. Food Retailing” in the November 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Prices for WIC foods in California are higher at smaller stores

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In fiscal 2013, USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) served an average of 8.7 million low-income participants per month, with expenditures totaling $6.4 billion. Containing program costs is a continual issue because WIC is funded annually by Congressional appropriations, making the program’s capacity largely dependent on funding levels and costs per participant. In turn, costs per participant depend in part on the prices charged for the WIC foods by WIC-authorized retailers. States are required to authorize an appropriate number and distribution of retailers to ensure adequate participant access to supplemental foods. A recent study found that smaller retailers in California charge higher prices than larger retailers for comparable WIC foods. However, prices did not decrease steadily with increases in store size. Stores with three or four check out registers had lower prices than did the smallest stores, and prices dropped again for stores with five or six registers, but prices were comparable among all stores with at least five registers. This chart is from “WIC Foods Cost More in Smaller Stores” in the September 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.