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 2018: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

Chain outlets make up a smaller share of restaurants in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest

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.

Declines in fat content have been largest for home-prepared food

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.

As quick-service restaurants proliferate, growth patterns mirror rural-urban migration trends

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.

The Great Recession affected food spending patterns of elderly households less than those of non-elderly households

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.

Inflation-adjusted food spending by U.S. households fell during the Great Recession and did not recover until 2015

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.

Americans purchase almost two-thirds of their calories from large grocery stores

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.

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.

Americans began to adjust their food spending patterns about a year before the 2007-09 recession

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.

Across income groups, fast food largest source of food-away-from-home calories

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.

American adults who eat at fast food places averaged 2.7 visits a week in 2014

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.

Average share of income spent on total food in the United States has remained relatively constant since 2000

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.

Fast food plays a larger role in all children's diets, but school food remains relatively more important for lower income children

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.

Prices of basic food ingredients outpaced prices of more convenient foods but with little impact on basic ingredient spending

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.

Food acquisition locations differ by household income and SNAP participation

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.

The 30-year upward trend in eating out briefly reversed in 2007-10

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Over the past three decades, food prepared away from home—whether eaten at restaurants, picked up or delivered to eat at home, or served in school cafeterias—has become a regular part of more and more Americans’ diets. Between 1977-78 and 2005-06, the share of calories obtained away from home for the average American age 2 and older rose from 18 to 34 percent. Increased consumption of fast-food fare drove this trend. The share of calories obtained from fast food increased from 6 percent in 1977-78 to 16 percent in 2005-06. In 2007-08, the share of calories obtained away from home dropped to 32 percent and then fell again in 2009-10 to 29 percent. This period roughly corresponds to the 2007-09 recession in America—the most severe recession since the 1930s. The drop in calories eaten away from home shows that Americans economized during this time by eating out less, not just shifting to lower cost options. By 2011-12, food away from home’s share of total calories grew to 34 percent, and the fast-food share rebounded to 16 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.

U.S. spending on food away from home higher than on food at home in 2014

Thursday, February 4, 2016

U.S. consumers spent more for food in away-from-home establishments than for meals prepared and consumed at home for the first time in 2014. Spending at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, etc.—accounted for 50.1 percent of the $1.46 trillion spent on food and beverages by U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities. The remaining 49.9 percent took place at grocery stores and other retailers. A 50.1-percent share of food expenditures does not equate to 50.1 percent of food quantities, as food purchased away from home is generally higher priced than food prepared at home. Food-away-from-home outlets incur costs for the variety of workers required to prepare and serve food, as well as for buildings, equipment, and utilities. The away-from-home market, which had a 26.3-percent share of total food expenditures in 1960, saw its share grow through the decades, except in some recession years. During the 2007-09 recession, food away from home’s share of total food spending dipped from 49.0 percent in 2007 to 48.5 percent in 2008 and did not rebound to its pre-recession share until 2012. The data for this chart are from ERS’s Food Expenditures data product, updated on January 26, 2016.

Share of eating-out expenditures at limited-service places more than tripled during the past half century

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Expenditures in the food-away-from-home sector (FAFH) totaled $ 705.9 billion in 2013, 49.6 percent of total U.S. food spending for that year. Full-service restaurants and limited-service eating places accounted for 77.9 percent of FAFH expenditures in 2013; 50 years ago, their combined share stood at 59.8 percent. In 1963, FAFH spending made up 28.6 percent of total food expenditures. Americans’ FAFH sources were more diverse that year than in 2013, with relatively more away-from-home eating taking place in hotels and motels, in schools and colleges, and in stores, bars, and from vending machines. During the last half century, full-service restaurants’ share of FAFH expenditures fell from 50.1 to 40.9 percent, while limited-service eating places’ share more than tripled—from 9.7 percent of FAFH expenditures in 1963 to 37.0 percent in 2013. The only other sector whose share of the total FAFH market has risen during the last 50 years was food sales at recreational places, such as theaters and sports venues, which rose from 2.5 percent of the FAFH total in 1963 to 4.1 percent in 2013. The statistics in this chart are from ERS’s Food Expenditures data product.

Number of fast food restaurants per capita varies across the U.S.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Almost half of all American households’ food expenditures occur in restaurants with wait staff, fast food places, and other away-from-home eating establishments. Studies by ERS and other researchers have shown that such eating out purchases tend to be of lower nutritional quality and contain more calories. The availability, convenience, and price of fast food is often suggested as a reason many Americans have poor dietary health. The number of fast food restaurants per capita varies across U.S. counties. Counties with relatively high numbers of fast food restaurants per capita (greater than 1 fast food restaurant for every 1,000 people) include counties comprised of densely populated cities (for example, New York, NY) and counties with major tourist attractions (for example Summit County, CO). Counties with very few fast food restaurants per capita are spread throughout the country, but tend to be those with smaller populations. This chart is one of the 40 updated maps in ERS’s Food Environment Atlas, posted on August 10, 2015.

Fast-food purchasers spend more time in secondary eating and drinking outside the home

Thursday, April 23, 2015

On an average day over 2006-08—the most recent data available—just over half of Americans age 18 and older engaged in secondary eating or drinking, meaning they consumed food or beverages while doing another (primary) activity. Fast-food purchasers spent about the same amount of time in secondary eating on an average day as the total adult population (23.1 versus 23.9 minutes) but more time in secondary drinking (76.9 versus 65.4 minutes). In addition, fast-food purchasers spent more time engaged in eating/drinking multitasking during certain activities than the total population average. Fast-food purchasers spent more time in secondary eating and secondary drinking while at work, at entertainment venues, and during travel (either as driver or passenger) than the total population average. This information is from the ERS report, The Role of Time in Fast-Food Purchasing Behavior in the United States, November 2014.

Recession affected visits to sit-down restaurants, not fast food

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Economic recovery since the Great Recession—which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009—was slow, particularly for the labor market; the 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession were not recovered until May 2014. Tough economic times caused consumers to adjust their spending on discretionary items, including their eating out habits. Using American Time Use Survey (ATUS) diaries from 2003-11, ERS researchers found that visits to sit-down restaurants declined during and after the 2007-09 recession, while fast food visits were little changed. The share of adults purchasing fast food/carry out at a counter-service restaurant on a given day stayed fairly constant over 2007-11 at around 13 percent. In contrast, the share of adults visiting a sit-down restaurant once or more on an average day declined from 20 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2011. The drop in sit-down restaurant visits likely reflects people switching their eating out purchases to lower-cost fast food options and the expansion of fast food offerings—both menu items and restaurant formats, such as “fast casual” restaurants. This chart is from “Recession Had Greater Impact on Visits to Sit-Down Restaurants than Fast Food Places” in the March 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Charts of Note header image for left nav