ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editor’s Pick 2016: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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

Food is the third largest spending category for American households at 12.6 percent

Monday, December 11, 2017

The average American household spent a slightly larger percentage of its income on total food—grocery and restaurant purchases—in 2016 than in 2015. The increase from 12.5 percent of expenditures in 2015 to 12.6 percent in 2016, possibly reflects 2016’s 0.3-percent rise in total food prices, combined with the 2.1-percent decline in transportation costs. With a 12.6 percent share, food ranked third behind housing (33 percent) and transportation (15.8 percent) in a typical American household’s 2016 expenditures. Breaking down food spending further, 7.1 percent of expenditures were spent at the grocery store and 5.5 percent at restaurants. Looking at expenditure shares over time, food’s share has steadily declined since 1984 (the first year of available data), when food expenditures accounted for 15 percent of consumer spending. As the share for food has declined, the shares of income spent on housing, health care, and entertainment have increased from 1984. This chart is one of the 34 charts and maps that can be found in the ERS publication, Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, October 2017.

Sodium content of some food products slowly declining

Monday, December 4, 2017

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge consumers to make careful food choices to lower sodium intake from the current average of 3,440 mg per day to less than 2,300 mg. The Dietary Guidelines point out that most sodium consumed in the United States comes from salts added by food processors and foodservice establishments—hence the need for making careful choices in the grocery store and when eating out. Food companies face challenges in reducing sodium because of the role salt plays in the taste and cost of their products. Steep decreases in salt can lead to changes in product taste, which can result in lost sales. Salt is a relatively inexpensive ingredient, and food manufacturers currently do not have similarly-priced options to replace it in their products. A recent ERS report found that from 2008 to 2012, average sodium content in three food categories declined as new lower sodium products replace those with higher sodium contents, with a decrease of 2.5 percent in yogurt products, a 4-percent reduction in breakfast cereals, and a 3.5-percent decrease in snacks. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, An Assessment of Product Turnover in the U.S. Food Industry and Effects on Nutrient Content, published on November 20, 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.

Bringing pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving dinner? A homemade one will cost you $4.12 this year

Monday, November 20, 2017

Errata: On November 20, 2017, the text was corrected to reflect that butter, sugar, and pie pumpkins were more expensive in September 2017 compared to September 2016, and flour and egg prices were lower.


As the fourth Thursday in November approaches, some shoppers may wonder how food price inflation will affect the cost of their favorite dishes, including pumpkin pie. In fact, for many Americans, it might be hard to imagine a Thanksgiving feast without it. In September 2017, the ingredients for a pumpkin pie totaled $4.12, with pumpkin making up 65 percent of that cost and butter accounting for 15 percent. This same pie would have cost $3.24 to bake in September 2016. Flour and egg prices were lower in September 2017 compared to September 2016, while milk prices remained relatively flat. Butter, sugar, and pie pumpkins—smaller, rounder, and denser than carving pumpkins—were all more expensive in September 2017 compared to a year earlier. Additional savings could be found this November, as retail stores often offer specials on holiday baking staples. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated October 25, 2017.

The share of SNAP households that live far from a supermarket or large grocery store varies by county

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Distance from a supermarket or large grocery store offering a variety of affordable and nutritious foods can influence food choices and diet quality. Data from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas show that in 2015, 2.5 million households receiving benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) lived more than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas or more than 10 miles from such stores in rural areas. In 98 counties—3 percent of the 3,143 U.S. counties—more than 10 percent of SNAP households lived more than 1 mile or 10 miles away from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store. The 10 counties with the highest shares of SNAP households living far from supermarkets and large grocery stores were in South Dakota, Alaska, Georgia, and Texas. For example, in Presidio County, Texas, 25 percent of SNAP households either lived more than 1 mile in urban neighborhoods—or 10 miles in rural areas—from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store. This map appears in USDA’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2017.

California, New York, and Texas lead in number of food and beverage processing plants

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

In 2015, five States—California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois—accounted for 38 percent of the 34,661 U.S. food and beverage processing plants operating that year. These States also have the highest populations and lead in agricultural production and manufacturing. California, with 5,531 food processing plants, had more than double that of second place New York (2,508 plants). California holds an important national position in several food processing industries—including fruit and vegetables, sugar, wine, and coffee—because of its favorable climate for growing a variety of crops and its ports. The State also has numerous dairy processing plants to serve its large population. In New York, bakery manufacturing accounts for the most food and beverage processing plants, followed by wineries and animal slaughter and processing plants. Texas ranked third for the most food processing plants (2,175); bakery manufacturing and animal slaughter and processing industries accounted for 39 percent of Texan food and beverage processing plants in 2015. This chart is from "Number of Food and Beverage Processing Plants Varies Across the United States" in the November 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Nearly half of U.S. counties had at least one farmers’ market that accepted credit cards in 2016

Friday, November 3, 2017

If you want to use a credit card when you buy your fall apples at a farmers’ market this year, you may be in luck. With the increase of technology in our everyday lives, there has been a gradual transition from cash to credit cards. Farmers’ markets are no exception. Accepting credit cards widens the customer base to include the growing number of Americans who prefer to use credit cards for their purchases. Data from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service show that 72 percent of U.S. counties reported having at least one farmers’ market in 2016 and 68 percent of those counties—48 percent of all 3,143 U.S. counties—reported having one or more farmers’ markets that accepted credit cards. The number of farmers' markets in a county that report accepting credit cards is one of the new statistics in ERS’s updated Food Environment Atlas. The Atlas assembles statistics on over 275 food environment indicators at the county or State level that can influence food choices and diet quality. According to the Atlas, 1,521 counties had 1 or more farmers’ markets that accepted credit cards and 77 counties had more than 10 farmers’ markets that accepted credit cards as a form of payment for goods. This map appears in USDA’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2017.

A perk with today’s home-brewed coffee—it costs less than 30 years ago

Monday, September 25, 2017

Friday, September 29 is National Coffee Day, and according to a National Coffee Association survey, 62 percent of adult Americans are coffee drinkers—either brewed at home or purchased on the go or as part of a restaurant meal. For those waking up to the aroma of home-brewed coffee, they can also enjoy the fact that their cup of morning coffee costs less today than it did 30 years ago, when adjusted for inflation. In 2017, a 12-ounce cup of coffee costs, on average, 19.1 cents to brew at home. That same cup of coffee cost 12.2 cents in 1987. But when adjusted for inflation, that 12.2 cents is equivalent to 26.3 cents in 2017 dollars. For those who prefer their daily joe with milk and sugar, that adds 3.1 cents in 2017 compared with 4.5 cents in 1987 in 2017 dollars. Thus, the cost of a home-prepared cup of coffee has declined by just over a fourth over the past three decades. So, sit back and enjoy a second cup this Friday. More information on ERS’s food price data can be found in the Food Price Outlook data product, updated September 25, 2017.

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.

Charts of Note header image for left nav