ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick: Charts of Note 2020 gallery.

Reset

Variety of vegetables available in United States expanded over last two decades

Monday, February 22, 2021

People in the United States are slowly expanding the variety of vegetables on their plates, data from the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) show. The vegetables food group is composed of five main subgroups: legumes, dark green, other vegetables, red and orange (including tomatoes), and starchy (including potatoes). Each offers an array of important vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. From 2000 to 2019, the combined share of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables (excluding tomatoes), and legumes available to eat in the United States increased from 16 percent to 22 percent. Increased availability of dark green vegetables over this period—led by a 47-percent jump in romaine and leaf lettuce—added additional variety for U.S. consumers. While the overall amount of vegetables available over the last two decades has decreased 4 percent, from 417.4 pounds per capita in 2000 to 400.1 pounds in 2019, there has been an increase in availability in recent years due in part to the expansion in varieties available for consumption. ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System provides annual estimates of the per-capita availability for more than 200 food commodities consumed in the United States. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, “U.S. Supplies of Vegetables Available To Eat in 2019 Down Slightly From 2000, But Variety Has Grown,” February 2021.

U.S. consumers obtained almost half their chicken at away-from-home eating places, 2013–16 survey showed

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

In light of shifts in eating habits due to COVID-19, USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers recently analyzed national survey data on foods eaten and where they were acquired. Data show that in the United States during 2013-16, almost half the chicken consumed was obtained at restaurants and other eating places away from home. ERS researchers looked at the most recent data available, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys conducted during 2013-16. They estimated the consumption of 63 commodities by two food sources: food at home (foods obtained at grocery stores, supercenters, and other retailers) and food away from home (foods obtained at away-from-home eating places). Among meat, poultry, and fish during 2013-16, the food most eaten at restaurants and other eating places away from home was chicken (47 percent). This was followed by beef (39 percent) and fish (36 percent). Pork had the lowest away-from-home share (27 percent), behind turkey (30 percent). Results from the ERS analysis indicate that when people in the United States consume more of their food at home because of the pandemic, consumption of specific commodities may be affected differently because people tend to eat a different mix of foods at home. This chart is based on a chart in the ERS COVID-19 Working Paper, Shares of Commodity Consumption at Home, Restaurants, Fast Food Places, Schools, and Other Away from Home Places: 2013-16, released December 2020.

Shifts in where food is obtained likely to affect specific commodities

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

As COVID-19 disrupted life at home, work and school in 2020, U.S. consumers shifted where they obtained their food. For many people, grocery store foods replaced meals and snacks previously eaten in restaurants, college dining halls, sports venues, and other eating-out places. To better gauge the potential effect on commodity sectors due to changes in access to commercial eating places, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers recently studied national survey data on foods eaten and where they were acquired. ERS researchers used recent 2013-16 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to estimate the consumption of 63 commodities by two food sources: food at home (foods obtained at grocery stores, supercenters, and other retailers) and food away from home (foods obtained at away-from-home eating places). Their analysis shows that consumers obtained 38 percent of their meat, poultry and fish at restaurants and other eating places away from home during 2013-16. The fats and oils food group showed the same share. On the other end of the data, the share of nuts obtained at eating-out establishments was 11 percent, as most consumers bought that product from stores. For the same period, consumers obtained a larger share of vegetables (36 percent) away from home compared with fruits (16 percent). As people in the United States consume more of their food at home because of the pandemic, consumption of specific commodities may be affected differently. This chart appears in the ERS COVID-19 Working Paper, Shares of Commodity Consumption at Home, Restaurants, Fast Food Places, Schools, and Other Away from Home Places: 2013-16, released December 2020.

Popularity of sweet potatoes, a Thanksgiving staple, continues to grow

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

If sweet potatoes are on your Thanksgiving menu this year, you are not alone. According to the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) food availability data, supplies of sweet potatoes available for U.S. consumers to eat averaged 7.2 pounds per capita per year in 2017-19, up from an average 3.9 pounds in 1997-99. Availability is calculated by adding domestic production, initial inventories, and imports, then subtracting exports and end-of-year inventories. These national supplies are then divided by the U.S. population to estimate per capita availability. Consumer interest in nutrition and food companies expanding their sweet potato-based offerings, such as sweet potato fries, may be contributors to the rise in sweet potato availability. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A and vitamin C. A cup of boiled sweet potatoes without the skin (and without any added fats or marshmallow toppings) contains 249 calories and 287 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A, 47 percent of vitamin C, and 29 percent of dietary fiber for a 2,000 calories-per-day diet. This chart uses data from ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

Limes, lemons, and tangerines drove the 2007-18 growth in fresh citrus availability in the United States

Friday, September 4, 2020

In 2018, the total supply of fresh citrus fruits available for Americans to eat—after adjusting for spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in food stores, restaurants, and households—was 8.0 pounds per person. From 1970 to 2018, loss-adjusted per person availability of oranges and grapefruit fell by 51 and 84 percent, respectively, while availability of other citrus fruits grew—lemons, for example, doubled; limes increased by 22 times. Year-to-year changes in availability of citrus fruits reflect production swings due to weather events, citrus diseases, changes in import or export volumes, and other factors. Longer term trends, however, are usually driven by changes in consumer demand. For example, skipping breakfast—or making it a “grab and go” meal—is likely to reduce demand for fresh oranges and grapefruit. Grapefruit takes more effort to eat, especially when compared with easy-to-peel citrus fruits such as tangerines that are sweet in taste and smaller in size. The popularity of Hispanic, Asian, and other cuisines that use lemons and limes could be contributing to higher demand for these fruits. This chart appears in ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Citrus Fruits Accounted for 14 Percent of Fresh Fruits Available for Americans to Eat in 2018,” August 2020.

Households are the largest users of fossil fuels in the U.S. food system

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Knowing where natural resource use accumulates is fundamental to understanding what factors influence resource-use decisions. A recent Economic Research Service (ERS) study estimated natural resource use by the U.S. food system in 2007 (2007 data were the latest available with the level of detail needed for the analysis). Farm production was the smallest user of fossil fuels (12 percent of fossil fuel use); households were the largest users (35 percent). Over 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in food production were from farms and ranches, followed by households, and then companies that distribute and market food. For forest products, the greatest use occurred during food processing and packaging, with paper-based packaging accounting for most of this use. Farm production was the dominant user of freshwater withdrawals due to irrigation, but slightly over a third of water use by the food system in 2007 occurred after the farm, including in household kitchens (20 percent) and in the energy industry (12 percent). This chart appears in the ERS report, Resource Requirements of Food Demand in the United States, and Amber Waves article, “A Shift to Healthier Diets Likely To Affect Use of Natural Resources,” May 2020.

Americans obtained just over one-third of their vegetables in away-from-home eating places in 2007-08

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders have shifted the places where consumers obtain a large share of their meals and snacks. Foods bought in grocery stores have replaced meals and snacks previously eaten in restaurants, college dining halls, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating-out places. Results from a 2016 Economic Research Service (ERS) study indicate this shift in where Americans obtain their foods is likely to affect the marketing and consumption of specific vegetables differently, depending on what share of a vegetable’s total consumption is obtained in away-from-home eating places and whether that share has changed over the last decade. In 2007-08 (the latest food-intake survey used in the 2016 study), Americans obtained 36.6 percent of their vegetables away from home. Lettuce and potatoes had the highest away-from-home shares at 47.2 and 45.6 percent, respectively. Green peas and sweet corn had the lowest away-from-home shares of the vegetables examined—just 20 percent of these vegetables were obtained at away-from-home eating places in 2007-08. ERS researchers used national survey data on foods eaten and where they were acquired to disaggregate 63 commodities in ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data system into two broad categories: food at home (foods obtained at grocery stores, supercenters, and other retailers) and food away from home (foods obtained at away-from-home eating places). ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data take per capita supplies of food commodities in all forms—fresh, canned, frozen, and dried—available for human consumption. The data adjust for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes. The data in this chart appear in the 2016 ERS report, U.S. Food Commodity Availability by Food Source, 1994-2008.

U.S. food system accounted for between 7 to 28 percent of the Nation’s 2007 use of five natural resources

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Conserving natural resources starts with identifying where they are used. A recent Economic Research Service (ERS) study examined how much of 5 of the Nation’s natural resources were used in 2007 to feed Americans aged 2 and above. (2007 data were the latest available with the level of detail needed for the analysis.) The researchers looked at the entire U.S. food system from production of farm inputs—such as fertilizers and feed—through points of consumer purchases in grocery stores and eating-out places to home kitchens. Their estimates show that agricultural land use in the U.S. food system was 25.5 percent of the country’s 2.3 billion acres of total land. Although the study does not account for other food-related land use, such as by forestry and mining industries serving the food system, it does show that about half of agricultural land is dedicated to food production for the U.S. market, and the other half was devoted to nonfood crops, like cotton and corn for producing ethanol, and to export crops, like soybeans. The U.S. food system also accounted for an estimated 28 percent of 2007’s freshwater withdrawals, 11.5 percent of the fossil fuel budget, and 7.2 percent of marketed forest products. Air is a natural resource that is degraded by the addition of greenhouses gases. The food system accounted for an estimated 18.1 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2007. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Resource Requirements of Food Demand in the United States, May 2020 and the Amber Waves feature article, “A Shift to Healthier Diets Likely To Affect Use of Natural Resources.”

Less fluid milk in the U.S. marketplace, but more of it was low-fat in 2017 than 40 years earlier

Friday, March 6, 2020

According to Economic Research Service (ERS) food availability data, the per person supply of fluid cow’s milk available for Americans to drink decreased by 40 percent over 1977-2017, from 29.0 to 17.3 gallons per person. Whole milk availability drove this decline, falling from 18.7 gallons per person in 1977 to a low of 5.1 gallons in 2014, then up to 5.7 gallons in 2017. Availability of milk with 2 percent milk fat grew from 5.5 gallons per person in 1977 to a high of 9.2 gallons in 1989 before falling to 5.8 gallons in 2017. In 2005, 2 percent milk replaced whole milk as the most popular milk type. Availability of 1 percent milk has held steady at around 2.5 gallons per person for the last two decades, and skim milk reached its peak in 1997 at 3.9 gallons per person. Several factors—including competition from alternative beverages, an aging population, and changing consumer attitudes and preferences regarding milk fats—affect trends in U.S. per person milk availability. The data for this chart come from the ERS Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

U.S. per capita consumption of total meat was up in 2017

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

In 2017, the per capita supply of red meat, poultry, and fish and shellfish available for Americans to eat, after adjusting for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes, rose to 143.9 pounds, continuing an upward trend that began in 2014 after an earlier decline. The 7.8-percent rise from 2014’s total was largely driven by increases in loss-adjusted availability of beef and chicken. Over 2015-17, beef had the largest percentage increase in per capita loss-adjusted availability—growing by 6 percent. Recovering consumer incomes after the 2007-09 recession and stable or declining retail prices have increased U.S. consumers’ demand for red meat in recent years. For chicken, the recent increase continues an upward trend that saw loss-adjusted availability of chicken more than doubling from 22.4 pounds per capita in 1970 to 52.3 pounds per capita in 2017. Efficiencies in chicken production have expanded supplies and kept prices in check. This chart appears in “U.S. Per Capita Availability of Red Meat, Poultry, and Seafood on the Rise” in ERS’s December 2019 Amber Waves.

Throughout most of the day, more women prepared food than did men in 2014-2017

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

ERS researchers used data for 2014-17 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to determine when Americans engage in food preparation and to look at gender differences. Over an average day in 2014-17, 54 percent of people age 15 and older engaged in food preparation with a noticeable gender disparity: 65 percent of women prepared food on an average day, compared to 41 percent of men. Counting only those Americans who prepared food on the day recorded in the survey, an average of 51 minutes per day were devoted to the activity, and women devoted more time than men (57 minutes versus 42 minutes). The peak times for food preparation were at 7 to 7:59 a.m. (14 percent), followed by a smaller peak at noon to 12:59 p.m. (12 percent) and a much larger peak at 5 to 5:59 p.m. (28 percent). More women than men engaged in food preparation from 7 a.m. to 6:59 p.m. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Food-Related Time Use: Changes and Demographic Differences, November 2019.

ICYMI... American adults consumed ready-to-eat foods more often in 2015–16 than in 2007–08

Friday, November 29, 2019

Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS) module, developed by ERS, has been part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey since 2007. FCBS questions are designed to collect data on U.S. consumers’ dietary knowledge, attitudes, and habits, including their consumption of frozen meals and “ready-to-eat” foods such as salads, soups, chicken, sandwiches, and cooked vegetables from the salad bars and deli counters of grocery stores. Preparing food at home can be a time-intensive activity, and some American adults turn to prepared foods offered in grocery stores when faced with time constraints. ERS researchers used FCBS data to examine changes between 2007–08 and 2015–16 in the frequency of eating grocery-store-prepared dishes and frozen meals and pizzas. Although the average number of times Americans age 20 and older reported consuming frozen meals or pizzas in the past month was similar in both time periods, average past-month consumption of ready-to-eat foods increased by about 26 percent, from 1.9 times in 2007–08 to 2.4 times in 2015–16. Many grocery stores have expanded their ready-to-eat options in recent years. More information from the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey can be found in the Food Consumption & Demand topic page on the ERS website. This Chart of Note was originally published April 26, 2019.

Potatoes and tomatoes are America’s top vegetable choices

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

If mashed potatoes are on your Thanksgiving menu, you are not alone. Potatoes rank number one among vegetables in terms of consumption. In 2017, 49.2 pounds of fresh and processed potatoes per person were available for Americans to eat after adjusting for losses, according to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data. The loss-adjusted food availability data series takes per capita supplies of food available for human consumption and more closely approximates actual consumption by adjusting for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in restaurants and grocery stores, as well as at home. Loss-adjusted availability of fresh potatoes was 22.9 pounds per person in 2017, followed by frozen potatoes at 20.5 pounds per person. Loss-adjusted availability of canned and dehydrated potatoes, along with potato chips and shoestrings, totaled 5.9 pounds per person in 2017. While loss-adjusted canned tomato availability, at 16.1 pounds, leads fresh tomatoes, total tomato loss-adjusted availability—fresh and canned—came in second (28.7 pounds per person). Loss-adjusted availability of fresh and dehydrated onions was 11.3 pounds per person in 2017. Head lettuce came in fourth at 8.3 pounds per person while romaine and leaf lettuce surpassed carrots and sweet corn, reaching 6.8 pounds per person. Consumption of carrots and sweet corn finished the list of America’s top 7 vegetable choices. This chart appears in the Food Availability and Consumption section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated September 2019.

America’s top fruit choices? Apples and oranges

Friday, October 4, 2019

In 2017, 113.8 pounds of fresh and processed fruit per person were available for U.S. consumption after adjusting for losses, according to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data. This data series takes per capita supplies of food available for human consumption and more closely approximates actual consumption by adjusting for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in eating places, grocery stores, and the home. Loss-adjusted apple juice availability at 13.8 pounds (1.6 gallons) per person in 2017, combined with fresh apples (almost 10 pounds per person), and canned, dried, and frozen apples (3.4 pounds per person), puts apples in the top spot for total fruit consumption. While orange consumption came in second, loss-adjusted orange juice availability has steadily declined, reaching a low of 18.2 pounds (2.1 gallons) per person in 2017. Loss-adjusted availability of fresh bananas was 14.1 pounds per person in 2017, which is 4 pounds per person more than fresh apples. Loss-adjusted availability of grapes reached 7.6 pounds per person, and strawberries, pineapple, and watermelon rounded out the list of America’s top fruit choices. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated September 2019.

ICYMI... U.S. shellfish availability more than doubled from 1970 to 2016

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Low in calories and saturated fat, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, seafood is a nutrient-dense source of dietary protein. In 2016, 15 pounds per person of seafood products were available for consumption in the United States, an increase from 11.7 pounds per person in 1970. In 2016, the category with the greatest availability was fresh and frozen fish at 6 pounds per person, followed by fresh and frozen shellfish at 5.3 pounds per person, which more than doubled since 1970. These two seafood categories together accounted for 76 percent of fishery product availability in 2016. Fresh and frozen shellfish availability has steadily increased over the past four and a half decades, surpassing canned tuna in 1991. The third highest seafood product, canned tuna, fell to 2.1 pounds per person in 2016 after reaching almost 4 pounds per person in 1989. Availability of the remaining canned and cured seafood products was 1.6 pounds per person in recent years down from a high of 2.5 pounds per person in 1972. The data for this chart come from the Food Availability data series in ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System. This Chart of Note was originally published May 10, 2019.

Romaine and leaf lettuces almost as popular as head lettuce

Friday, June 21, 2019

In 2017, 13.2 pounds per person of fresh head lettuce (iceberg, butter, Boston, and Bibb lettuces) were available for domestic consumption, according to ERS’s Food Availability data. Fresh head lettuce has declined 54 percent from its high of 28.6 pounds per person in 1989. In contrast, availability of romaine and leaf lettuces (such as red and green leaf lettuces) increased, reaching 12.5 pounds per person in 2017 from 3.3 pounds per person in 1985 and almost equaling head lettuce. The growing popularity of prepackaged, ready-to-eat salad greens contributed to the rise in availability of romaine and leaf lettuces. ERS annually calculates national supplies available for domestic consumption by summing domestic production, beginning inventories, and imports and then subtracting exports and ending inventories. Per capita estimates are calculated by dividing these national supplies by the U.S. population. The data for this chart come from the Food Availability data series in ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

Almonds lead increase in tree nut consumption

Friday, May 31, 2019

Over the past five decades, Americans’ annual consumption of tree nuts has grown from 1.38 pounds per person in 1970 to 3.69 pounds in 2016, according to ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series (a proxy for consumption). Almond consumption experienced the largest growth, increasing by 1.35 pounds per person from 1970 to 2016. Consumption of pecans and walnuts averaged a little over one-third of a pound per person, remaining relatively stable throughout the years. Pistachios have steadily increased in popularity since 1970, reaching 0.33 pound per person in 2016. Consumption of other nuts (cashews, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, and many nut mixes) doubled, reaching almost a pound per person in 2016. Cashews make up the largest share of this grouping. Promotional programs that tout the nutritional value of nuts, including their beneficial levels of vitamin E and omega fatty acids, and increased awareness and demand for nut milks have likely contributed to the growth in per capita nut consumption. The data for this chart come from the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series in ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

U.S. shellfish availability more than doubled from 1970 to 2016

Friday, May 10, 2019

Low in calories and saturated fat, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, seafood is a nutrient-dense source of dietary protein. In 2016, 15 pounds per person of seafood products were available for consumption in the United States, an increase from 11.7 pounds per person in 1970. In 2016, the category with the greatest availability was fresh and frozen fish at 6 pounds per person, followed by fresh and frozen shellfish at 5.3 pounds per person, which more than doubled since 1970. These two seafood categories together accounted for 76 percent of fishery product availability in 2016. Fresh and frozen shellfish availability has steadily increased over the past four and a half decades, surpassing canned tuna in 1991. The third highest seafood product, canned tuna, fell to 2.1 pounds per person in 2016 after reaching almost 4 pounds per person in 1989. Availability of the remaining canned and cured seafood products was 1.6 pounds per person in recent years down from a high of 2.5 pounds per person in 1972. The data for this chart come from the Food Availability data series in ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

Americans consumed almost 12 pounds of legumes per person in 2017

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Naturally gluten-free, high in fiber, and a good source of protein, Americans’ consumption of legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas) has trended upward in recent years, according to ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series (a proxy for consumption). U.S. consumption of legumes reached 11.7 pounds per person in 2017, up from 8.0 pounds per person in 2014. Rising demand by U.S. consumers for Tex-Mex dishes and food products like hummus drove the increase. From 1970–2017, the largest growth occurred in the consumption of black beans, increasing to 1 pound per capita, and peas and lentils, increasing to 4.7 pounds per capita—the highest consumption among all categories. Pinto beans experienced an uptick in 2017, climbing to 2.9 pounds per person. Despite falling slightly in 2017, consumption of other legumes (chickpeas, black eyed peas, small white, small red, pink, and other beans) has steadily risen, and has grown 63 percent over the past 47 years. However, not all legumes have grown in popularity. Lima bean consumption fell to 0.2 pound per person in 2017—a 74-percent decrease from 1970. Consumption of navy, great northern, and red kidney beans fell 58 percent during this time period as well. The data for this chart come from the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series in ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

American adults consumed ready-to-eat foods more often in 2015–16 than in 2007–08

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS) module, developed by ERS, has been part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey since 2007. FCBS questions are designed to collect data on U.S. consumers’ dietary knowledge, attitudes, and habits, including their consumption of frozen meals and “ready-to-eat” foods such as salads, soups, chicken, sandwiches, and cooked vegetables from the salad bars and deli counters of grocery stores. Preparing food at home can be a time-intensive activity, and some American adults turn to prepared foods offered in grocery stores when faced with time constraints. ERS researchers used FCBS data to examine changes between 2007–08 and 2015–16 in the frequency of eating grocery-store-prepared dishes and frozen meals and pizzas. Although the average number of times Americans age 20 and older reported consuming frozen meals or pizzas in the past month was similar in both time periods, average past-month consumption of ready-to-eat foods increased by about 26 percent, from 1.9 times in 2007–08 to 2.4 times in 2015–16. Many grocery stores have expanded their ready-to-eat options in recent years. More information from the FCBS can be found in the Food Consumption & Demand topic page on the ERS website.

Charts of Note header image for left nav