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Restaurant prices are usually less volatile than grocery store food prices

Monday, September 11, 2017

Grocery store food (food-at-home) prices tend to be more volatile than restaurant (food-away-from-home) prices, and this was true during 2009-16. Over this period, restaurant prices rose between 1.3 and 3.5 percent per year, while food price changes at the grocery store were more irregular, ranging from a 4.8-percent increase in 2011 to a decrease of 1.3 percent in 2016. In 2016, grocery store prices and restaurant prices moved in opposite directions. Food-away-from-home prices rose 2.6 percent on average, while food-at-home prices declined 1.3 percent. Although it may seem that prices for food—whether purchased at a grocery store or restaurant—should move in the same direction, differences in production processes and operating costs between the two food sectors can, in part, explain the divergence in 2016. Lower farm commodity prices and energy costs contributed to the decline in at-home food prices in 2016, but eating out places had to absorb rising wages and benefits for employees who prepare, serve, and clean up in foodservice establishments. This chart appears in "Since 2009, Restaurant Prices Have Generally Risen Faster Than Grocery Store Prices" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, August 2017.

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Increasing prices (inflation) for food sold in supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers differ by U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). For example, from 2007 to 2016, retail food prices rose 26.4 percent in Pittsburgh but only 12.8 percent in Anchorage. Several factors account for variations in food price inflation across MSAs. Changes to the costs associated with transporting food products to the grocery store can vary geographically, and volatile fuel prices can contribute to variation in retail food price inflation across MSAs. Fluctuations in retail overhead costs, such as labor and rent, may also differ from one area to another. Increases in retail overhead costs are often passed onto consumers as higher prices. However, in MSAs with falling consumer incomes, grocers may not be able to pass on price increases to budget-constrained consumers, dampening food price inflation. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Food Price Outlook, updated July 25, 2017.

Almost three-fourths of the average dollar Americans spend eating out covers restaurant services

Monday, August 14, 2017

Rising prices for farm commodities generally have a larger impact on grocery store price tags than on restaurant menus. The reason? Different cost structures, as shown by ERS’s Food Dollar Series. This series apportions total annual expenditures by U.S. consumers on domestically-produced food and beverages to 12 industry groups based on the value added by each industry. In 2015, farm production and agribusiness industries accounted for 13.8 cents of the food-at-home dollar (foods and beverages purchased from grocery stores and other retailers) and 3.2 cents of the food-away-from-home dollar (foods and beverages from fine dining establishments, fast casual chains, and coffee shops). Thus, grocery store prices are more closely connected to farm prices than restaurant prices. The largest share of the away-from-home food dollar—72.3 cents in 2015—was spent on the services provided by restaurants, including the labor of baristas, bakers, and busboys. Sixty-two percent of this value added by foodservice establishments (44.7 cents) covered the salaries and benefits of employees involved in preparing and serving meals and cleaning up afterwards. This chart appears in "Since 2009, Restaurant Prices Have Generally Risen Faster Than Grocery Store Prices" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, August 2017.

About a third of U.S. food manufacturing jobs are in meat and poultry plants

Monday, July 24, 2017

In 2015, 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 (13.7 percent). In over 34,000 food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these employees were engaged in transforming raw agricultural materials into products for intermediate 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 (31 percent), followed by bakeries (16 percent), and fruit and vegetable processing plants (11 percent). This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Changes in farm commodity prices have a muted effect on grocery store and restaurant prices

Friday, July 21, 2017

Favorable weather conditions as well as droughts and floods can lead to changes in production levels of farm commodities and, in turn, swings in their prices. Volatility in farm commodity prices—measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) for Farm Products—and in intermediate foods—measured by the PPI for Processed Foodstuff and Feedstuff—is often greater than price volatility in grocery stores and restaurants. Intermediate foods, such as vegetable oils and refined sugar, are used to produce final foods like cookies and bread. Prices at each stage generally move in the same direction, but the magnitude of the price changes varies. For instance, in 2016 the Farm Products PPI declined by 9.7 percent, the Processed Foodstuff and Feedstuff PPI fell by 2.7 percent, while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for All Food (foods purchased in stores and eating places) rose, slightly, by 0.3 percent. Price fluctuations for intermediate foods and final foods are muted relative to that of farm products, since foods at later stages of production include less volatile costs for processing, transportation, packaging, and other wholesale and retail overhead costs. According to ERS’s Food Dollar Series, farm and agribusiness costs only represented 10.8 cents of every dollar spent on domestically-produced food in 2015. This chart is from ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated July 3, 2017.

U.S. certified organic cropland has increased most years since 2002

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Although the organic sector shows substantial regional and commodity concentration, all 50 States now have some organic production and processing. In 2015, the United States had 3.2 million acres of certified organic cropland and 2.2 million acres of certified organic pasture (including rangeland). That land accounted for less than 1 percent of all U.S. cropland and pasture, but continued the long-term growth trend in the organic sector. Between 2002 and 2015, U.S. certified organic cropland increased most years. The adoption of organic systems has been relatively higher in some sectors. For example, U.S. markets for organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs have been developing for decades. In 2015, 5 percent of fruit and vegetable acreage was managed under certified organic systems. In contrast, less than 0.3 percent of corn and soybean acreage—the two most widely planted U.S. crops—had adopted organic systems. This chart appears in the February 2017 Amber Waves feature "Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers."

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Although all 50 States have some organic production and processing, the proportion of farms that are certified organic varies across commodities produced and regions. 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 (see table to the right of chart) accounted for 78 percent of the total value of all U.S. certified organic commodities sold in 2015. California alone contributed 39 percent of total U.S. organic farm sales. This chart appears in the February 2017 Amber Waves feature "Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers."

Fruits and vegetables top organic food sales

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Although U.S. organic food sales account for a small share of total U.S. food sales, they have exhibited double-digit growth during most years since 2000, when USDA set national organic standards. In 2015, the Nutrition Business Journal estimated U.S. organic retail sales at $37.1 billion—with organic food accounting for about 5 percent of total U.S. at-home food expenditures, more than double the share in 2005. Organic sales in all food categories have grown over the last decade. Fresh fruits and vegetables remained the top selling organic category in 2015, accounting for 40 percent of total organic sales. Dairy, the second top selling organic category, accounted for 15 percent of total sales. This chart appears in the February 2017 Amber Waves feature “Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers.”

Decline in farm share of U.S. food dollar mirrors drop in farm commodity prices

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On average, U.S. farmers received 15.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically-produced food in 2015, down from 17.2 cents in 2014. Known as the farm share, this amount is at its lowest level since 2006, and coincides with a steep drop in 2015 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. 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that the farm share has declined, but the 2015 decline was substantially more than in the three previous years. The drop in farm share also coincides with four 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 16, 2017.

Energy used by the U.S. food system declined with rising energy prices from 2002 to 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Energy used to produce and prepare the foods and beverages purchased by and for U.S. consumers reached 13.5 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2002. Electricity accounted for 59 percent of the energy used by the U.S. food system in 2002. In the years leading up to 2002, electricity prices paid by U.S. processing plants, grocery stores, restaurants, and other food system participants—including consumers for their kitchen appliances—were trending downward. As a result, between 1998 and 2002 the U.S. food system substantially increased its use of energy and accounted for over half of the increase in the Nation’s energy budget over this period. Between 2000 and 2010, the average price paid for electricity across the U.S. food system increased about 50 percent. Faced with this steep increase in electricity prices, food-related energy use declined over most of this period, falling to 11.9 quadrillion Btu in 2012. Food-related energy use accounted for 12.5 percent of the national energy budget that year. This chart is based on data reported in the ERS report, The Role of Fossil Fuels in the U.S. Food System and the American Diet, January 19, 2017.

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.

Consumer demand drives growth in the organic food sector

Friday, July 15, 2016

U.S. organic food sales were an estimated $37 billion in 2015, according to the latest data from Nutrition Business Journal. Organic food products are still gaining ground in conventional supermarkets as well as natural foods markets, and organic sales accounted for about 5 percent of total U.S. food sales in 2015, according to industry estimates. Although the annual growth rate for organic food sales fell from the double-digit range in 2009-10 as the U.S. economy slowed, growth rates since 2011 have rebounded to 10-12 percent, and are more than double the annual growth rate forecast for all food sales. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the top selling organic category, followed by dairy products. Organic farmers often earn substantial price premiums for their products. This chart appears in the ERS report Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 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.

Americans are eating fewer potatoes and less cabbage than previous generations

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Many consumers will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by preparing a traditional Irish-themed meal of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. While cabbage and potatoes remain seasonally popular, annual per capita consumption is trending lower. Beginning in the1970s and through the 1990s, consumption of fresh cabbage averaged about 8.5 pounds per capita, peaking at 9.3 pounds in 1993 with the growing availability of prepared, fresh-cut products such as slaws and salad mixes. Consumption has been trending lower since 2000, reaching as low as 6.3 pounds in 2012 before rebounding somewhat the past two years to 7.0 pounds in 2014. Consumption of fresh potatoes has been declining over a longer period, falling by about 20% during the 1970’s, before stabilizing during the 1980s and 1990s and trending lower again since 2000. The long-term decline reflects changes in the market as well as dietary shifts, including greater availability of processed potatoes (especially frozen) that supplant consumption of fresh potatoes, and growing interest in low-carbohydrate diets during the past decade that reduced consumption of all starches. This chart is based on data found in the Vegetable and Pulses Yearbook and the Food Availability Per Capita Data System.

Food hubs and the farms they serve are located near urban areas

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Farmers have two main channels through which to sell their food locally: directly to consumers (at farmers' markets, roadside stands, farm stores, etc.) and through intermediated marketing channels (defined to include sales to grocers, restaurants, schools, universities, hospitals, and regional distributors). In 2012, 163,675 farmers sold an estimated $6.1 billion in local foods overall, with an estimated $4.8 billion sold by 48,371 farmers through these intermediated marketing channels. The number of dedicated local food distributors, brokers, and aggregators serving these intermediated marketing channels, known as regional food hubs, increased by 288 percent between 2007 and 2014, to a total of 302. By engaging in market outreach activities and offering technical services to producers, food hubs provide markets for midsized farmers, and opportunities for small and beginning farmers to scale-up local food sales without increasing the time farm operators and their households spend on marketing activities. Most food hubs are located in metropolitan areas, and where farms with intermediated sales are most numerous. This map is found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: Report to Congress, January 2015.

Inflation-adjusted beverage prices little changed between 1999 and 2010

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

ERS’s Quarterly Food-Away-From-Home Prices (QFAFHP) data product provides quarterly average prices for products at away-from-home eating places (full- and limited-service restaurants, vending machines, and schools) across geographic areas and over time, and can be combined with the Quarterly Food-At-Home Price Database to make comparisons between at-home and away-from-home markets. Using these data, ERS researchers observed that beverages away from home are generally more expensive than at-home versions. In the last quarter of 2010, nonalcoholic beverages purchased at limited-service restaurants cost $1.37 for a 16-ounce serving, while beverages purchased at vending machines cost $1.00 for 16 ounces. Beverages purchased in food stores cost even less—$0.44 for 16 ounces. From 1999 to 2010, inflation-adjusted beverage prices at limited-service restaurants and vending machines grew only 1 percent per year on average, while they declined 1 percent at food stores. This chart appears in “New Data on U.S. Food-Away-From-Home Prices Show Geographic and Time Variation” in ERS’s September 2014 Amber Waves magazine.

School lunch prices increased the most in the Northeast from 1998 to 2012

Monday, June 30, 2014

ERS’s new data product—Quarterly Food-Away-From-Home Prices (QFAFHP)—provides quarterly average prices for meals and products at four types of away-from-home eating places (full-service restaurants, limited-service restaurants, vending machines, and schools) to help support research on demand for food away from home over time and across geographic areas. School lunch prices are the prices paid by students for a full-price lunch averaged across public and private schools educating kindergarteners through 12th graders. In the first quarter of 2012, an average U.S. school lunch cost $2.19, up 60 percent from $1.37 in the first of quarter 1998, but prices and increases over time varied by region. In first quarter 1998, school lunches were most expensive in the West at $1.50 per lunch. By first quarter 2012, school lunches were most expensive in the Northeast at $2.48 per lunch. The Northeast experienced the highest growth over this period (97 percent), while the South experienced the lowest (52 percent). These increases outpaced regional inflation for overall food away from home as measured by the Consumer Price Index, which showed increases ranging from 47 to 49 percent from 1998 to 2012. More information on ERS’s QFAFHP data product can be found in Methodology for the Quarterly Food-Away-From-Home Prices Data, released on May 21, 2014.

Hog virus contributes to outlook for higher wholesale and retail pork prices

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Retail pork prices have been rising in recent months, increasing 2.8 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Higher prices at the meat counter are partly due to increasing farm prices for hogs, which rose 41 percent over the same time period. Higher hog prices to date are, in part, the result of strong demand, particularly in export markets, as well as the high price of pork substitutes such as beef and poultry. In addition, the outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) has increased piglet mortality, reduced litter sizes, and lowered forecasts for U.S. hog slaughter and pork production later in 2014. Farm prices provide early indications of changes at the wholesale and retail levels, although price swings at those levels are dampened by processing, transportation, and retailing costs. The recent increases in hog prices indicate that the current inflation in retail pork prices can be expected to gain momentum in coming months. ERS forecasts wholesale pork prices to increase 7 to 8 percent in 2014 and retail pork prices to rise by 3 to 4 percent. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in the Food Price Outlook data product, updated June 25, 2014.

New ERS data series fills gaps in away-from-home food price data

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

With close to one-third of Americans’ calories being eaten away from home, understanding how prices drive demand for food away from home over time and across geographic areas is a critical area of research. ERS’s new data product, Quarterly Food-Away-From-Home Prices (QFAFHP), can help support this research. The data product contains quarterly average prices for meals and products at 4 types of eating places (full-service restaurants, limited-service restaurants, vending machines, and schools) from the first quarter of 1998 to the second quarter of 2012, at the national, census region, and census division levels. In the second quarter of 2012, meals cost $9.95 on average in U.S. full-service restaurants, and $3.76 in limited-service restaurants. Full-service meals cost 43 percent more in the most expensive census division for full-service meals (Pacific) than in the least expensive division (West South Central). The Pacific had the lowest priced limited-service meals at $3.35, while the East South Central division had the highest at $4.38, a difference of 31 percent. More information on ERS’s QFAFHP data product can be found in Methodology for the Quarterly Food-Away-From-Home Prices Data, released on May 21, 2014.

Processing and marketing costs lessen volatility of retail food prices

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Droughts, floods, and other shocks to farming can lead to swings in the prices paid for farm commodities. Volatility in farm commodity prices—measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) for Farm Products—and in intermediate foods—measured by the PPI for Processed Foodstuffs and Feedstuffs—is often greater than price volatility in grocery stores and restaurants. Prices move in the same direction, but the magnitude of the price changes varies. For instance, in 2011 the Farm Products PPI rose by 23.6 percent, while the Processed Foodstuffs and Feedstuffs PPI increased by 8.3 percent and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for All Food by 3.2 percent. Price fluctuations for intermediate and retail foods are muted relative to that of farm products because prices for these foods include processing, transportation, and marketing costs. According to ERS’s Food Dollar Series, farm and agribusiness costs only represented 10.8 cents of every dollar spent on food in 2011. This chart appears in “Food Price Transmissions from Farm to Retail” in the May 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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