ERS Charts of Note
Friday, August 28, 2020
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities spent an average of $137.4 billion per month on food. Normal seasonal variations were present, with total food spending being lowest in January and February and highest in May, August, and December. Early 2020 followed the same pattern, with lower-than-average total food spending in January and February, but this trend continued into the spring with spending on food falling to $105 billion in April 2020, as spending at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating places—dropped to $36 billion. Spending on food-away-from-home rebounded in May and June but remained below 2019 spending in those months. Total food sales rose in May and June 2020 but were still lower than a year ago. Higher monthly sales at grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other food-at-home retailers compared with last year were not enough to compensate for the lower spending at food-away-from-home establishments. The data in this chart, along with more information on U.S. food sales and expenditures, can be found in the Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product, updated August 20, 2020.
Friday, August 7, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders dramatically impacted Americans’ food spending in spring 2020. Inflation-adjusted expenditures at grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other food-at-home retailers were 19.3 percent higher in March 2020 compared with March 2019. This same spending was 3.1 percent higher in April 2020 than in April 2019, and 3.9 percent higher in May 2020 than in May 2019. Comparing spending for the same month accounts for seasonal food spending patterns. Inflation-adjusted March 2020 expenditures at eating-out establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating-out places—were 28.3 percent lower than March 2019 expenditures. In April and May 2020, food-away-from-home spending was down 50.8 and 37.2 percent, respectively, when compared to the same months one year ago. During the Great Recession of 2007-09, expenditures on both food at home and food away from home decreased, with the largest decrease occurring in February 2009. Unlike previous economic shocks, COVID-19 led to a pronounced substitution from food away from home to food at home in part due to the spring 2020 stay-at-home orders and the fact that many eating-out businesses were operating at a limited capacity or had ceased operations completely. The data in this chart are from the Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product, updated July 21, 2020.
Friday, July 24, 2020
In 2019, U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities spent $1.8 trillion on foods and beverages, according to the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Expenditure Series. Expenditures at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating places—totaled $969.4 billion in 2019, compared to the $799.4 billion spent on food at home in grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers. Full-service restaurants with wait staff and limited-service restaurants—where food is ordered and paid for at a counter or drive-thru window—dominate the U.S. food-away-from-home market. Each of these sectors accounted for over a third of food-away-from-home expenditures in 2019. Schools and colleges accounted for 7.3 percent of food-away-from-home expenditures in 2019, followed by retail stores and vending machines (4.1 percent), hotels and motels (4.0 percent), recreational places (3.5 percent), and drinking places and other food-away-from-home sales (3.2 percent). Spending on food furnished in hospitals and in group quarters—such as meals served in military barracks, prisons, and nursing homes—and the value of food commodities donated by the Federal Government totaled $47.6 billion in 2019 and accounted for 4.9 percent of food-away-from-home expenditures. While the data in this chart predate the COVID-19 pandemic, they can provide insight into its potential impact on the food-away-from-home market. The stay-at-home orders that accompanied the pandemic have caused a drop in spending on eating out, and some food-away-from-home sectors have been more affected than others. The data in this chart are from ERS’s Food Expenditure Series data product.
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.
Friday, June 5, 2020
Errata: On July 22, 2020, this Chart of Note was reposted with corrected data for February 2020 and March 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders have dramatically impacted Americans’ food spending. Inflation-adjusted expenditures at grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers (food at home) were 6.7 percent higher in February 2020 compared with February 2019. This same spending was 19.3 percent higher in March 2020 compared with March 2019. Comparing spending for the same month accounts for seasonal food spending patterns. Inflation-adjusted February 2020 expenditures at eating-out establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating-out places—were 3.1 percent higher than February 2019 expenditures. March 2020 food-away-from-home spending was 28.3 percent lower than March 2019 spending. During the Great Recession of 2007-09, expenditures on both food at home and food away from home decreased, with the largest decrease in February 2009. Unlike previous economic shocks, the COVID-19 shock has led to a pronounced substitution from food away from home towards food at home. This substitution is in part due to the stay-at-home orders and the fact that many eating-out businesses are operating at a limited capacity or have ceased operations completely. The data in this chart are from the Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product, updated June 2, 2020.
Thursday, October 17, 2019
Since May 2018, Federal regulations have required restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets nationwide to include the calorie content of all standard items on menus and menu boards. In 2015, chain outlets that would be subject to the new regulations accounted for over 250,000 restaurants in the United States—roughly 40 percent of the Nation’s restaurants. Eighty-five percent of these outlets were quick-service restaurants (also known as fast-food or limited-service restaurants) where food is ordered and paid for at a counter. The prevalence of chain restaurants varied nationwide in 2015, with relatively heavy concentrations in the South, Midwest, and parts of the West. In some counties in these regions, chains accounted for roughly 50 to 60 percent of all restaurants. In contrast, the Northeast and the Northwest States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana were less chain-dominated in 2015. Restaurant-goers in places with relatively few chain restaurants may have less exposure to calorie information about restaurant foods and beverages. This map appears in the September 2018 ERS report, America’s Eating Habits: Food Away From Home. This Chart of Note was originally published March 25, 2019.
Monday, March 25, 2019
Since May 2018, Federal regulations have required restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets nationwide to include the calorie content of all standard items on menus and menu boards. In 2015, chain outlets that would be subject to the new regulations accounted for over 250,000 restaurants in the United States—roughly 40 percent of the Nation’s restaurants. Eighty-five percent of these outlets were quick-service restaurants (also known as fast-food or limited-service restaurants) where food is ordered and paid for at a counter. The prevalence of chain restaurants varied nationwide in 2015, with relatively heavy concentrations in the South, Midwest, and parts of the West. In some counties in these regions, chains accounted for roughly 50 to 60 percent of all restaurants. In contrast, the Northeast and the Northwest States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana were less chain-dominated in 2015. Restaurant-goers in places with relatively few chain restaurants may have less exposure to calorie information about restaurant foods and beverages. This map appears in the September 2018 ERS report America’s Eating Habits: Food Away From Home.
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
A recent ERS analysis found that over the last 35 years, the percent of calories coming from fat in at-home foods consumed by Americans declined more than the fat content of away-from-home foods. (At-home foods are foods purchased from supermarkets and other retailers; away-from-home foods are obtained from restaurants, schools, vending machines, sports venues, and other away-from-home sources.) The fat content of at-home foods fell from 41.0 percent of calories in 1977-78 to 32.1 percent in 2011-14. Over the same period, the fat content of away-from-home foods dropped less sharply from 41.2 to 37.4 percent. Changes in fat content can occur because of different choices being made by consumers, changes in product formulations, or both. Changes in fat content varied among the away-from-home sources. The fat content of fast food changed little, while the fat content of foods from restaurants with wait staff declined from 46.1 to 37.1 percent. The fat content of school meals fell to a level similar to that of food at home. School food consists primarily of meals served as a part of USDA’s National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, which are required to meet Federal nutrition standards. This chart appears in “Both At Home and Away, Americans Are Choosing More Lower Fat Foods Than They Did 35 Years Ago” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, October 2018.
Thursday, December 6, 2018
Over the last decade and a half, the number of quick-service restaurants—eating places where food is ordered and paid for at a counter—operating in the United States grew by nearly 20 percent, from roughly 285,000 establishments in 2000 to over 340,000 in 2015. This growth did not unfold uniformly across the country. Many urban counties, especially in the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, and rapidly urbanizing counties in the Western states, experienced growth in quick-service restaurants during 2000-15 that exceeded 30 percent, significantly higher than the 20-percent national average. One driver of quick-service restaurant growth in urban counties was the emergence of the fast-casual restaurant—a category of quick-service restaurants embodying the format’s typical counter service and price point but with perceived higher quality of menu offerings and ingredients, as well as ambiance much like casual full-service restaurants. While some rural counties experienced growth in quick-service restaurants during 2000-15, others sustained losses, especially in the central United States, consistent with patterns of rural-urban migration. This map appears in “Growth in Quick-Service Restaurants Outpaced Full-Service Restaurants in Most U.S. Counties” in ERS’s November 2018 Amber Waves magazine.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Elderly households (those with at least one individual age 65 or older) tend to be less affected by economic downturns, possibly because they have more fixed incomes from Social Security or pensions that do not depend on employment. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, ERS researchers found that from 2005 to 2010, elderly households did not significantly change their share of food spending allocated to grocery stores and other food-at-home retailers or their share allocated to eating-out options. By 2016, elderly households had reduced their share of food-at-home expenditures by about 3 percentage points and increased their share of spending at fast-food places, although the fast-food share remained below that of non-elderly households. In contrast to elderly households, non-elderly households spent less of their food budgets at full-service restaurants and more on food at home in 2010 and 2016 than in 2005. This chart appears in “Food Spending of Middle-Income Households Hardest Hit by the Great Recession” from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, September 2018.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
The Great Recession, which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009, was the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, ERS researchers examined household food spending from 2005 to 2016 using inflation-adjusted dollars to make the expenditures comparable across years. They found that total food spending declined by 7 percent from 2007 to 2010 and did not return to pre-recession levels until 2015. During this period, however, households adjusted their spending on food at grocery stores and other retailers (food at home) differently from spending at restaurants, fast-food places, and other food-away-from-home establishments. In every year except 2010, food-at-home spending exceeded 2005 levels. In contrast, spending at food-away-from-home establishments declined by 18 percent from 2006 to 2010 and did not recover to its 2005 level until 2016. Thus, the share of total household food expenditures spent on food away from home declined from 40.5 percent in 2005 to 36.3 percent in 2010, before rising to 38.8 percent in 2016. This chart appears in “Food Spending of Middle-Income Households Hardest Hit by the Great Recession” from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, September 2018.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Americans acquire food from many sources—supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food outlets, and more. But in practice, large grocery stores dominate. A recent ERS analysis of household-level data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) found that three-quarters of U.S. households’ calories came from retail stores, with supermarkets, supercenters, and other large grocers providing 65 percent of calories by themselves. Small and specialty food stores like bakeries and farmers’ markets supplied 3 percent of calories and 6.5 percent came from convenience stores, dollar stores, and other stores. Restaurants and other eating places provided 17 percent of household calories. ERS researchers used the detailed FoodAPS data to calculate the nutrient value of food acquisitions and found that the overall nutritional quality of foods purchased at large grocery stores was higher than that of foods purchased at other retail outlets or restaurant and fast-food establishments. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Nutritional Quality of Foods Acquired by Americans: Findings from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey, released on February 21, 2018.
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.
Friday, November 18, 2016
A recent ERS analysis found that between 1999 and 2006, the share of the average household food budget allocated to basic and complex ingredients fell steadily from around 24.7 to 20.8 percent, but then began to climb reaching 24.2 percent in 2010. Basic ingredients, such as milk and fresh meats, and complex ingredients, such as mayonnaise and bread, are grocery store foods used to prepare a meal or snack. The food budget share—defined as total expenditures at grocery stores and eating-out places—spent on ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat grocery store foods followed a somewhat similar, but muted, pattern. The upturn in food budget share devoted to ingredients and ready to eat/cook grocery foods began almost a year before the 2007-09 recession and its aftermath—a time when many consumers cut back on eating out, especially fast food meals and snacks. The share of the total food budget spent in fast-food outlets where customers order and pay at a counter grew until 2007 to 30.6 percent, then declined to 25.7 percent in 2010. This chart appears in “Purchases of Foods by Convenience Type Driven by Prices, Income, and Advertising” in the November 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Friday, October 21, 2016
Federal food intake surveys conducted between 1977 and 2012 reveal that meals and snacks from fast food places accounted for more of Americans’ away-from-home calories than food from full-service restaurants, school cafeterias, or other away-from-home eating places. In 1977-78, eating places with no wait staff (fast food) provided 5.7 percent of daily calories for those age 2 and older, while food prepared by restaurants with wait staff provided 3.2 percent. By 2011-12, fast food’s share of calories had increased to 15.8 percent, while restaurant foods provided 8.9 percent of daily calories. Fast food’s ranking as the largest contributor to away-from-home calories held true for both higher income individuals (household income above 185 percent of the Federal poverty line) and individuals with incomes below that amount. In all of these surveys, higher income consumers obtained a larger share of their calories from foods prepared by restaurants (11.2 percent in 2011-12) than did lower income consumers (5.8 percent in 2011-12). This chart appears in “Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating Out Trends” in the June 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Eating out accounts for a significant share of Americans’ food budgets and diets. ERS analysis of data from the Eating and Health Module of the American Time Use Survey provides a snapshot of which household types are purchasing “fast food” and how often. Fast food in the analysis includes prepared food from a deli, carry-out and delivery food, and food from a fast food restaurant. Over an average week in 2014, 58.2 percent of American adults purchased fast food and those who purchased fast food did so an average of 2.7 times. Couples with children were the most likely to purchase fast food (64.5 percent), whereas single-person households were the least likely (51.1, percent). However, single-person households had the highest average number of weekly fast food purchases. Men who purchased fast food did so an average of 3 times per week, whereas women who had purchased fast food averaged 2.5 times. This chart appears in the ERS report, Americans’ Eating Patterns and Time Spent on Food: The 2014 Eating & Health Module Data, July 2016.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
In 2014, Americans spent an average of 9.7 percent of their disposable personal incomes (DPI) on food. After falling from 17.0 percent in 1960 to 10.0 percent in 1999, the share of DPI spent on total food by the average American has remained between 9.5 and 9.8 percent since 2000. The share of DPI spent on food away from home (food purchased from restaurants, fast food places, schools, and other food-away-from-home eating places) was 3.9 percent in 2000, 4.1 percent in 2005 and, after flattening out during the 2007-09 recession through 2012, reached 4.3 percent in 2014. In contrast, the share of DPI spent on food at home (food purchased from supermarkets, convenience stores, warehouse club stores, supercenters, and other retailers) declined from 5.8 percent in 2000 to 5.5 percent in 2014. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. More information on U.S. food sales and expenditures can be found in ERS’s Food Expenditures data product.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Federal food intake surveys conducted between 1977 and 2012 reveal that, in the 1990s, fast food overtook school food as the largest source of food prepared away from home in children’s diets. However, school foods have remained a more important source of calories for lower income children than for higher income children. The mandated cutoff for free or reduced-price USDA school meals is a household income at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. In 1977-78, school meals provided 10.1 percent of the calories consumed by lower income children eligible for free or reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches and 7.5 percent of higher income children’s total calories. In that same year, fast food provided 4.5 percent of higher income children’s average daily energy intake and 3.2 percent of lower income children’s calories. School food continued to provide about 10 percent of lower income children’s total calories in 1994-98 but, by 2011-12, the school food share fell to 8.1 percent and the fast food share rose to 14.2 percent. This chart appears in “Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating Out Trends” in the June 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Beginning in 2004, prices of basic food ingredients purchased in grocery stores grew faster than prices of ready-to-eat meals and snacks purchased in grocery stores. Basic ingredients are raw or minimally processed foods, such as milk, dried beans, and fresh meat, used in producing a meal or snack. Ready-to-eat meals and snacks, such as refrigerated entrees and side dishes, yogurt, and candy, require no preparation beyond opening a container. A recent ERS analysis found that between 1999 and 2010, spending by a typical American household on basic ingredients was not as responsive to these price changes as spending on ready-to-eat meals and snacks. In the first quarter of 1999, 5.2 percent of the average food budget was spent on basic ingredients and 18.0 percent on ready-to-eat meals and snacks. By the fourth quarter of 2007, the share of total food expenditures spent on basic ingredients remained fairly constant but increased during the 2007-09 recession. The share of total food expenditures spent on ready-to-eat meals and snacks, on the other hand, steadily declined to 17.1 percent before rising back to 1999 levels during and following the 2007-09 recession. This chart appears in the ERS report, U.S. Households’ Demand for Convenience Foods, July 29, 2016.
Monday, August 1, 2016
Understanding where U.S. households acquire food, what they acquire, and what they pay is essential to identifying which food and nutrition policies might improve diet quality. USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) provides a complete picture of these key aspects during a 7-day period in 2012 by including both food at home and food away from home acquisitions. Higher-income households are more likely to visit large grocery stores (88 versus 83 percent) and small or specialty food stores (20 versus 14-15 percent) than households that participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and lower-income non-SNAP households. SNAP households are more likely to report an acquisition in the ‘all other stores’ category compared with both non-SNAP groups (51 versus 39-41 percent), which includes convenience stores, gas stations, and pharmacies. Considering food away from home, SNAP households are least likely to visit restaurants/other eating places when compared to lower-income non-SNAP and higher-income households. In addition, a larger share of SNAP households obtain food from schools (20 percent) than lower-income non-SNAP households (12 percent) and higher-income households (14 percent). Finally, higher-income households are twice as likely to get food from work than the other two groups, which is not surprising given their greater employment rates. The data for this chart can be found in the ERS report, Where Households Get Food in a Typical Week: Findings from USDA’s FoodAPS, released on July 27, 2016.