Background

This page provides the following information:

About the data series

The food dollar series measures annual expenditures by U.S. consumers on domestically produced food. This data series is composed of three primary series—the marketing bill series, the industry group series, and the primary factor series—that shed light on different aspects of the food supply chain. This new and expanded food dollar series provides an improved overview of the food system, with more accurate and informative estimates of the farm share and the distribution of food-dollar value-added shares over time. (See Marketing Bill FAQs.)

Marketing bill statistics for food commodities have been published annually since the 1940s by USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS). The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 mandated that USDA measure the costs of marketing U.S. agricultural commodities. Due to measurement problems, the discontinuation of several underlying data sources, and increased interest in evolving supply-chain relationships, ERS has replaced the marketing bill series with the new food dollar series. The food dollar series uses input-output analysis to calculate the food dollar and its components for the years 1993 to 2017. The series is updated annually.

Input-output analysis generates food dollar estimates (and food-and-beverage dollar estimates) for three expenditure categories—total expenditures, at-home expenditures, and away-from-home expenditures. For each expenditure category, three primary dollar series are generated:

  1. The marketing bill series measures the food dollar share accruing to farmers from the sale of raw food inputs (the farm share), with the remainder accruing to food supply chain industries involved in all post-farm activities that culminate in final market food dollar sales (the marketing bill).
  2. Because the market value of all food dollar expenditures equals the value added by all food dollar supply chain industries, the industry group value-added series divides the food dollar into total value added for 12 industry groups: agribusiness; farm production; food processing; packaging; transportation services; energy; wholesale trade; retail trade; foodservices; finance and insurance; advertising; and legal and accounting services.
  3. The primary factor series divides the food dollar into the value contributions of four primary production factor groups—salary and benefits, property income, output taxes, and imports. Then a cross-tabulation table divides the food dollar into the primary factor returns for each industry group. All estimates are reported in both nominal (current price) and real (inflation adjusted) dollars.

Questions and answers

Q: Why Revise the Entire Historical Food Dollar Series?

A: All tables in the food dollar series were automatically revised from 2002 forward with the release in early 2014 of a new Industry Economic Accounts: Benchmark Input-Output Accounts. The reasons and methodology used by ERS for this planned revision are described in the following ERS report:

A Revised and Expanded Food Dollar Series: A Better Understanding of Our Food Costs

For this scheduled revision, ERS implemented minor, but important, improvements in the estimation model used to develop all annual food dollar statistics. The improvements address some inconsistencies in the way that standard IO accounts represent the U.S. food system, such as how food-away-from-home expenditures at non-conventional eating places—for example, sports arenas and passenger travel—are traced through the food supply chain and how wholesale and retail establishments in the food industry are distinguished from other trade establishments. The combined changes to the estimation model had little or no impact on some estimates, but in many cases, changes resulted in both upward and downward revisions in the historical data series. Thus, revisions were
applied back to the beginning year of the food dollar series—1993.

Q: Why replace the marketing bill series?

A: ERS's marketing bill series was replaced by the food dollar series because this new approach to assessing what our food dollars pay for is superior to the former approach in several key ways:

  • The quality, timeliness, and completeness of the new source data ensure that a complete accounting of the entire food system is derived from a single consolidated data source;
  • A precise approach to measuring and reporting the cost components of the entire food dollar in the new series avoids the potentially confusing divisions of the previous marketing bill series; and
  • The new food dollar series provides a more complete accounting of the modern global food system. See:
A Revised and Expanded Food Dollar Series: A Better Understanding of Our Food Costs

Q: How does the marketing bill series differ from price spreads data?

A: The marketing bill data series answers the question, "what is the average price received over a calendar year by farmers for the farm commodities produced for a typical $1 consumer food purchase, and how has this average price changed over time?" The series provides an average across all food and beverage products combined and includes both purchases in retail food stores (such as supermarkets) and purchases in foodservice establishments (such as restaurants). Statistics are reported in both a current-year (nominal) price series and a real price series that holds all prices constant at their
reference-year levels, with the current reference year being 2009. Because all food purchases from domestic production are considered, the mix of products represented, or the market basket, changes from year to year.

The Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer data product also compares prices paid by consumers for food with prices received by farmers for corresponding commodities, but comparisons are for a variety of foods sold only through retail foodstores. Prices are reported as a calendar year average, and comparisons of farm and retail prices are made for individual foods and groupings of individual foods—market baskets—that represent what a typical U.S. household buys at retail in a year. The retail costs of these baskets are compared with the money received by farmers for a corresponding basket of agricultural commodities. Food groupings currently include dairy, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, processed fruits and vegetables, and field crops, with each food group encompassing two or more individual food items.