Documentation

This page provides the following information:

Definitions

Total food expenditures are allocated between types of products and outlets. The four product types are food at home (FAH), food away from home (FAFH), alcohol at home (AAH) and alcohol away from home (AAFH). FAH products are packaged foods, and AAH are packaged alcoholic beverages; both FAH and AAH are meant for off-premise (or home) consumption. FAFH products are prepared meals and snacks, and AAFH are alcoholic beverages; both FAFH and AAFH are meant for immediate consumption.

The four product types are further allocated by the type of outlets where the products are obtained. For FAH, the outlets include grocery stores; convenience stores; other food stores; warehouse clubs and supercenters; mass merchandisers; other retail stores and foodservice, not elsewhere classified (nec); mail order and home delivery; direct sellers; and home production and donations. For FAFH, the outlets include full-service restaurants; limited-service restaurants; drinking places; hotels and motels; retail stores and vending machines; recreational places; schools and colleges; other FAFH sales, nec, and food furnished and donated. AAH is allocated to liquor stores; food stores; and other places, nec. AAFH is allocated to eating and drinking places; hotels and motels; and other places, nec.

Total food expenditures are also allocated by type of purchaser and user. Final purchasers are those who paid for the product. For the final purchaser estimates, food assistance benefits and other government transfers to households are counted as government purchases. Final users, on the other hand, are those who consumed or otherwise used the food. Food assistance and other government transfers are counted as household final users. Most purchasers and users of food are households, but government and businesses also purchase food as well. FAH has two final purchasers and users—households and government; whereas FAFH has three final purchasers—households, government, and businesses. Food expenditures by households are expressed per household and as a share of disposable personal income. Food expenditures by all purchasers are expressed on a per capita basis.

Composition of Food Expenditure Series: Food at Home (FAH)
What food product was acquired? Sales of food meant for home or off-site consumption and the value of donations and non-market acquisitions
Where was the food product acquired (outlet type)? Food stores Convenience stores Other food stores Mass merchandisers Warehouse clubs and supercenters Other stores Home delivery and mail order Direct sales Home production and donations
Who paid for the food product (final purchaser)? Government (includes food and nutrition assistance programs), businesses, individuals, and households
Who were the final users? Individuals and households (includes food and nutrition assistance programs)
Notes: Direct sales are sales by farmers, manufacturers, and wholesalers directly to consumers for final purchase or use.
Other stores include FAH purchased at food service establishments. 
Alcohol at home (AAH) is similar to FAH except that the outlet types are liquor stores, food stores, and other AAH, not elsewhere classified (nec).
Composition of Food Expenditure Series: Food Away From Home (FAFH)
What food product was acquired? Sales of food meant for immediate consumption, Federal food programs, and food furnished as an ancillary activity
Where was the food product acquired (outlet type)? Full-service restaurants Limited-service restaurants Drinking places Retail stores and vending machines Hotels and motels Recreational places Schools and colleges Other FAFH sales, nec Food furnished and donated
Who paid for the food product (final purchaser)? Government (includes food and nutrition assistance programs, Medicare/Medicaid inpatient meals, and expensed meals), businesses, individuals, and households
Who were the final users? Individuals and households (includes food and nutrition assistance programs)
Notes: nec = not elsewhere classified.
Alcohol away from home (AAFH) is similar to FAFH except that the outlet types are eating and drinking places, hotels and motels, and other AAFH, nec.

Data sources and methods for the annual series

This section briefly describes the source data and methods currently used to measure the Food Expenditure Series. A more thorough description of the current data can be found in Measuring the Value of the U.S. Food System: Revisions to the Food Expenditure Series. This publication also delineates the differences between the current version of the Food Expenditure series and the archived data series.

The primary data sources for the Food Expenditure Series are the Economic Census for data on sales by employer establishments and U.S. Census Bureau surveys for total (employer and non-employer) sales data. The percentage of sales on food and alcohol for on- and off-premise consumption at employer establishments (Economic Census) is applied to sales for all establishments for all industries that are covered by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nominal sales are augmented by sales taxes, which are applied to all retail outlets and eating and drinking places. Sales of foods and alcohol sold by eating and drinking places are further augmented by an estimate of tips paid by consumers. In the last comprehensive revision, 97 percent of the FAH and 78 percent of FAFH expenditures were based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

A few components of the Food Expenditure Series are measured differently because either the Economic Census does not collect data on these industries or the information collected is incomplete. Food sales by commissaries, exchanges, Veteran’s Canteen Service, higher education, farms with direct sales to consumers, and train food services are estimated with data from IRI Infoscan, the Veteran’s Administration, National Center for Education Statistics, Agricultural Census, and Amtrak annual reports. The cost of food furnished to employees and the military is estimated with personal consumption expenditures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, while the cost of food furnished to institutionalized populations (hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric facilities and prisons) is based on information from the Bureau of Prisons and various trade associations.

The value of commodity donations (Commodity Supplemental Food Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Food Distribution on Indian Reservations and Trust Program) and some federal food and nutrition assistance programs (Child and Adult Food Programs, Summer Food Service Program) are based on administrative data from the Food and Nutrition Service. The value of home production is estimated using the value of on-farm food consumption from the ERS Farm Income and Wealth Statistics and off-farm food consumption from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Data sources and methods for the monthly estimates

The monthly estimates encompass most food sales except for sales of food at schools and colleges. They also exclude donations, and the cost of food furnished to employees, airline travelers, and institutionalized and noninstitutionalized persons. The primary data source for the monthly estimates are Census monthly surveys: Monthly Retail Trade Survey, Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey, Monthly Manufacturing Trade Survey, and Quarterly Survey of Services. At each annual update, a proportional method is used to revise the monthly estimates so that the sum of these estimates equals the annual sales estimates for FAH and FAFH. The objective of this method is to keep the ratio of the estimated quarterly or monthly series to the indicator series as constant as possible under the annual constraints.

Revisions to the Food Expenditure Series

To improve the accuracy and timeliness of the Food Expenditure Series, major revisions were made, including the following:

  • Inclusion of new source data and methods;
  • Introduction of advance estimates, revised estimates, and final estimates;
  • Reorganization of published tables;
  • Bench-marking of the monthly sales series to the annual series; and
  • Establishment of a timetable for data release.

The Food Expenditure Series consists of advance, revised and final estimates. The first set of estimates for a given year are the advance estimates, which are lagged 1 year and based on source data that are incomplete and subject to revision. These initial estimates are replaced the following year when more reliable data are available. The new estimates are called the revised estimates, which are lagged two years and based on more complete data. With the release of each Economic Census, the revised estimates are replaced with final estimates, which are lagged 3–8 years and bench-marked to the 5-year Economic Census.

The advance estimates are extrapolations of the revised estimates using monthly and quarterly Census data (Monthly Retail Trade Survey, Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey, Monthly Manufacturing Trade Survey, and Quarterly Survey of Services) or a price index (Consumer Price Index, CPI, or Producer Price Index, PPI). The quarterly and monthly survey data are not as reliable as the annual survey data but the cumulative sum of these estimates over a year can be used as an extrapolator for the annual survey data, later to be revised. The revised estimates are based on data in the Annual Survey of Retail Trade, Service Annual Survey, Annual Wholesale Trade Survey and Annual Manufacturing Survey. The final estimates are based on the Economic Census data, which is a complete Census of employer establishments.

The estimates in the comprehensive revision of the Food Expenditure Series were reconciled to previously-published estimates and to the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) series and the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) estimates to assess accuracy. In addition, the advance estimates for 2016 were compared to revised estimates for 2016 to assess estimation error from using timelier but lesser quality data.

ERS plans to update the annual estimates in late Spring/early Summer of 2019.

Last updated: Monday, September 24, 2018

For more information contact: Abigail Okrent and Howard Elitzak