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

U.S. households in the lowest income quintile spent 32.6 percent of their incomes on food in 2016

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Households spend more money on food (from grocery stores and eating out) when incomes rise, but food expenditures represent a smaller portion of income as households allocate additional funds to other goods. In 2016, U.S. households in the middle income quintile, with an average 2016 after-tax income of $47,681, spent an average of $6,224 on food, representing 13.1 percent of their incomes. The lowest income households—those with annual after-tax incomes of $11,832 and below in 2016—spent $3,862 on food on average, representing 32.6 percent of their incomes. Over time, food’s share in overall spending has been declining across income levels. Looking back to 1996, households in the lowest income quintile spent 41.9 percent of their incomes on food and middle income households spent 17 percent. Declining food expenditure shares have corresponded with rising shares of spending on housing and health care. This chart is one of the 34 charts and maps that can be found in the ERS publication, Selected charts from Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, October 2017.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Food system drove decline in U.S. per capita energy use between 2002 and 2007

Monday, July 3, 2017

The U.S. food system uses a substantial share of the national energy budget. In 2012, the food system used 11.9 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), representing 12.5 percent of the 95.2 quadrillion Btu of total energy used. Not only does the food system use a large share of energy, it can also drive national trends in energy use due to its higher responsiveness to changes in energy prices. Evidence of the food system’s ability to drive energy use is clear when the data are expressed on a per capita basis to remove population-driven changes. Between 2002 and 2007—a period of rising energy prices—nonfood-related energy use increased by 2.5 million Btu per capita, while food-related energy use showed a cumulative per-capita change of -5.3 million Btu, equivalent to each American using about 48 gallons less gasoline over this 5-year period. One reason for the increase in non-food related energy use is that purchases of non-food goods outpaced food purchases during that time. Food-related energy reductions caused national average per capita energy use to decline by 2.7 million Btu between 2002 and 2007. This chart appears in "The Relationship Between Energy Prices and Food-Related Energy Use in the United States" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, June 2017.

Households accounted for more than one-third of U.S. food-related energy use in 2012

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Food-related energy use includes all energy used in the production and preparation of foods and beverages purchased by and for U.S. consumers. In 2012, a total of 11.9 quadrillion British thermal units (qBtu) were used throughout all stages of the food system. At the household level, 3.5 qBtu were used in kitchens and 0.6 qBtu were used for household food-related transportation. This includes energy used directly—to drive to the grocery store and to power refrigerators, stoves, and other kitchen appliances in the home—and indirectly—to build those appliances. The total 4.1 qBtu used by households accounted for over one-third of energy use attributed to the food system. Food and beverage processors, such as meat packers, commercial bakeries, and breweries, used 2.2 qBtu in 2012. Electricity was the most used energy commodity at 6.8 qBtu, or 58 percent of the total. Petroleum products and natural gas contributed similar shares at 20 and 18 percent, respectively, while other energy such as renewables, ranked last in its contribution to food system energy use at 0.5 trillion Btu. This chart appears in "The Relationship Between Energy Prices and Food-Related Energy Use in the United States" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, June 2017.

Food price inflation continues to outpace overall inflation

Monday, June 5, 2017

From 2012 to 2016, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food (grocery store and restaurant food) rose by 6.1 percent—a larger increase than the 4.5-percent rise in the all-items CPI. When the CPI for a specific category, such as food, rises faster than the all-items CPI, it indicates that prices for the category are rising faster than prices for consumer goods and services as a whole. Livestock and crop diseases, major weather events, and shocks to global food markets have caused price inflation for food to outpace many other consumer spending categories. Only prices for medical care and housing rose faster than food prices during 2012-16. Food prices experienced larger increases than prices for recreation and education and communication, and apparel and transportation prices fell over 2012 to 2016. The 10.3-percent decline in transportation prices—a result of falling gasoline prices in 2015 and 2016—helped hold down economy-wide inflation. Food-price inflation outpacing economy-wide inflation is not a recent phenomenon. Over the last decade, food-price inflation averaged 2.4 percent per year and overall inflation averaged 1.8 percent per year. This chart appears in ERS’s data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Poorest U.S. households spent 33 percent of their incomes on food in 2015

Friday, May 19, 2017

While households spend more money on food as their incomes rise, food expenditures represent a smaller portion of income as households allocate additional funds to other goods. In 2015, U.S. households in the highest income quintile spent an average of $12,350 on food—both from grocery stores and eating out. This spending accounted for 8.7 percent of their incomes. Middle income households spent an average of $5,799 on food, or 12.4 percent of their incomes. Households in the lowest income quintile spent less for food on average—$3,767 in 2015—but their food expenditures accounted for 33 percent of their incomes. Two years earlier, the lowest income quintile spent 36.2 percent of their incomes on food. The share of income spent on food depends on several factors, including food prices and incomes. While retail food price inflation was relatively low in 2013, income levels were also lower than in 2015, contributing to the higher percent of income spent on food in 2013 by the lowest income households. Food expenditures as a share of income could fall in 2016 and 2017 across income levels due to declining retail food prices in 2016 and a continued trend downwards in prices for some foods in 2017. This chart is from ERS’s Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, released April 28, 2017.

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.

Retail food prices in 2016 declined for the first time in nearly 50 years

Monday, March 27, 2017

In 2016, retail food prices decreased by 1.3 percent—the first time since 1967 that grocery store (food-at-home) prices were lower than those in the year before. Over the last 50 years, food-at-home prices have, on average, risen 4 percent annually. However, year-to-year price changes have varied over time. High food price inflation in the 1970s—price increases as large as 16.4 and 14.9 percent in 1973 and 1974—was precipitated by food commodity and energy price shocks, whereas food price increases were minimal in 2009 and 2010, as the 2007-09 recession put downward pressure on prices for many goods, including food. The unusual decline in retail food prices in 2016 can be attributed to a culmination of factors. Declining prices for retail meats, eggs, and dairy during that year are largely a story about rising commodity production. Lower transportation costs due to low oil prices and the strength of the U.S. dollar also placed downward pressure on food prices in the first half of 2016. This chart appears in “Consumers Paid Less for Grocery Store Foods in 2016 Than in 2015” in the March 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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.

Grocery store food prices expected to rise as much as 1 percent in 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

ERS is forecasting grocery store (food at home) prices to rise between 0 and 1 percent in 2017, in contrast to the 1.3-percent decline in retail food prices in 2016. Poultry prices are expected to rise 1.5 to 2.5 percent, dairy prices could increase between 2 and 3 percent, and cereal and bakery product prices are expected to rise as much as 1.25 percent in 2017. On the other hand, consumers are expected to face lower prices in 2017 for beef and veal, eggs, and fruits and vegetables. Prices for beef and veal could decrease as much as 2.5 percent, egg prices are expected to fall 3 to 4 percent, and consumers could pay up to 0.5 percent less for fruits and vegetables. These forecasts are based on an assumption of normal weather conditions. Severe weather or other unforeseen events could drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts. Conversely, a strengthening U.S. dollar could continue to make the sale of domestic food products overseas more difficult. This would increase the supply of foods on the domestic market, placing downward pressure on retail food prices. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated February 23, 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.

Farmers earned a bigger bite of U.S. households’ spending on fresh vegetables in 2015

Friday, January 27, 2017

Over the past decade, the farm share for a basket of 16 fresh vegetables—the ratio of prices received by growers (farm value) to grocery store prices (retail value)—has averaged about 25 percent. In 2015, the basket’s annual farm value rose by 11 percent to $62.12, while its annual retail value rose by 1.6 percent to $225.80, causing farm share for the basket of fresh vegetables to increase from 25 to 28 percent. Farm-level prices rose in 2015 as drought reduced shipment volumes from California, the Nation’s leading State for fresh vegetable production. However, lower oil prices and a strong U.S. dollar mitigated retail price increases. According to ERS forecasts, while U.S. production of fresh-market vegetables was expected to recover somewhat in 2016, it was also expected to remain below 2014 values, putting continued upwards pressure on farm prices. This chart is based on the Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer data product on the ERS website, updated December 13, 2016.

Baking supplies cost less in 2016 than in 2015

Friday, December 16, 2016

This holiday season, consumers buying baking ingredients will find their wallets stretch a bit farther. The total cost in 2016 for five baking staples—eggs, milk, margarine, sugar, and flour—was down from 2015. A 5-pound bag of flour, 4-pound bag of sugar, gallon of whole milk, pound of margarine, and a carton of eggs would have cost $13.30 in October of 2015 compared to $11.65 in October of 2016—a savings of $1.65. Consumers may notice the biggest savings when they reach into the refrigerated cooler for eggs. Egg prices have been halved, declining year-over-year by $1.42 per dozen as the egg industry recovers from last year’s Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak. Price changes for the other categories are smaller and vary depending on the ingredient. Milk, sugar, and margarine cost less this year, while a 5-pound bag of flour cost 6 cents more than last year. More information on retail food prices and forecasted inflation can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 23, 2016.

Grocery store prices lower in the third quarter of 2016 from a year ago

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The food-at-home Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the third quarter of 2016 was 1.9 percent lower than the food-at-home CPI for the third quarter of 2015. Grocery store prices decreased, on average, across the board—with the exception of fresh fruits, which rose 2 percent. Egg prices saw the largest decrease, falling 35 percent, reflecting the recovery in the industry after the supply shock caused by late 2014 to June 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak. Beef and veal, dairy products, pork, and poultry also posted large decreases compared to third quarter 2015, reflecting larger supplies of cattle, raw milk, hogs, and broilers. In addition to increases in domestic supplies, lower oil and energy prices helped hold down retail food price inflation, while a strong U.S. dollar lowered costs for imported foods and decreased demand for U.S. exports, placing further downward pressure on U.S. retail food prices. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials chart collection. More information on retail food prices and forecasted inflation can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 23, 2016.

Charts of Note header image for left nav