Retail Trends

ERS provides information on food store sales and sales growth, the share of food sales by retail segment, and industry structure.

Sales and Sales Growth

The Nation's 115,526 food stores sold $717 billion of retail food and nonfood products in 2019. Grocery stores—including supermarkets and smaller grocery stores (except convenience stores)—accounted for the largest share of store sales (92.1 percent), followed by convenience stores without gasoline (4.6 percent). Specialized food stores—including meat and seafood markets, produce markets, retail bakeries, and candy and nut stores—accounted for the remaining 3.3 percent of the total.

Grocery store (excluding convenience stores) sales increased following the 2007-09 recession—a period of economic uncertainty in which traditional grocery retailers experienced negative inflation-adjusted growth. Since 2010, grocery store sales growth (in current dollars) exceeded the rate of inflation. Inflation-adjusted sales growth from 2010 to 2019 averaged 1.31 percent per year, compared with -0.19 percent per year from 2000 to 2009. The slow and negative inflation-adjusted growth in annual sales at traditional grocery stores was likely due in part to increased competition from nontraditional food retailers—such as warehouse clubs, supercenters, drugstores, and other retailers—as more consumers economized on food spending.

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Industry Structure

Total U.S. food sales at supermarkets, other grocery (except convenience) stores, warehouse clubs, and supercenters reached $653 billion in 2019 (gray bars). Sales by the 20 largest food retailers totaled $410.4 billion in 2019, accounting for 65.1 percent of total food sales (purple line). This share increased 85.9 percent from 1990 to 2019 (from 35.0 percent to 65.1 percent, respectively). Before and after the Great Recession of 2007–2009, market shares held by the largest 4, 8, and 20 retailers decreased slightly. Since 2012, the longer-term trend of an increasing concentration of sales among the Nation's largest retailers has resumed. This trend continued for the top 4 retailers, although the ratio for the top 20 and top 8 fell slightly in 2018, declining 1.6 and 0.6 percent, respectively.

A contributing factor to these increases over the past decade has been the steady growth of Walmart Supercenters, making Walmart the largest U.S. retailer of grocery products. In comparison, second-place Kroger—the largest traditional grocery retailer—has been a major player in mergers-and-acquisitions activity, acquiring retailers such as Harris Teeter and Roundy's in the last decade.

Supermarkets experienced major consolidation and structural change through mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and internal growth in the mid- to late 1990s. These factors produced increasing shares of the largest 4, 8, and 20 grocery retailers during this period. This vigorous consolidation activity slowed throughout the following decades. Over 300 food industry mergers and acquisitions were recorded in 2019. Some highlights of the last few years include the following: 

  • The top 4 retailers in 2019 were Walmart Stores, Inc., Kroger, Albertson's, and Target. Ahold Delhaize and Publix were ranked amongst the top 8 most of the last decade, reflecting the impact of industry mergers and acquisitions.
  • The share of food sales at supermarkets, other grocery (except convenience) stores, warehouse clubs, and supercenters by the top 8 and top 20 retailers rose for five consecutive years from 2012 to 2017. The share of food sales by the top 4 retailers rose every year since 2012.
  • Much of the change in industry structure during the last few years resulted from consolidation, specifically two large mergers—the acquisition of Safeway by Albertson’s in January 2015, and the acquisition of Delhaize by Ahold in June 2015.
  • Amazon acquired Whole Foods in the summer of 2017. Because Amazon was not a major player in the industry, the short-term effect on the overall structure of the retail food industry was not hugely affected.