How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost?
USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) has estimated average
costs for 153 fresh and processed foods, using data from Nielsen's
2008 Homescan panel to estimate average retail prices per pound
(or, for juices, per pint). Households participating in Nielsen's
Homescan panel keep a record of their food purchases at retail
stores including quantities bought, amount of money paid, and date
of purchase. Purchases at supermarkets, supercenters, convenience
stores, drugstores, and other types of retail facilities are all
included. Nielsen also provides sample weights for estimating what
all households paid across the contiguous United States. In order
to estimate the cost to consume each food, ERS researchers further
adjusted retail quantities to account for removing inedible parts
and cooking that occur prior to consumption. Costs to consume foods
were then estimated per edible cup equivalent as defined in the
2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The rising prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity has
prompted various strategies to improve children's diet quality. ERS
has examined the effect of replacing one energy-dense snack a day
with a fruit or vegetable to determine the likely impact on
both households' food budgets and children's caloric intakes. ERS
estimated the price per portion for 20 snack items commonly
consumed by children ages 6-13, including salty snacks, baked and
sweet goods, and frozen treats. ERS also identified and priced 20
fruits and vegetables that are potential replacements for these
This page contains documentation for the cost of fruits and
vegetables as well as for the costs and caloric impact of snack
Selecting foods to price
A wide variety of fruits and vegetables is available at retail
stores across the Nation. ERS priced selected types of fruits and
vegetables in various fresh and processed forms. For example,
apples include fresh apples, dried apples, and applesauce. Apples
are also priced in two juice forms: ready-to-drink and frozen
concentrate that must be reconstituted at home.
Products identified for pricing are very specific products. The
final selection of food products was determined in part by data
constraints: ERS researchers could not price fresh produce sold on
a "random weight" basis, such as whole, untrimmed heads of Romaine
lettuce. Marketers usually do not prepackage untrimmed heads of
Romaine lettuce, but sell the heads in loose form instead.
Consumers can choose heads from a store display and place their
selection in a plastic bag. Because the weight of the food item
placed in the bag is not fixed, the term "random weight" describes
this way of selling lettuce. Nielsen did not provide data on sales
of individual random weight foods in 2008.
Even with certain data limitations, ERS was able to price many
types of fruits and vegetables in at least one fresh form. For
example, retailers sell Romaine hearts along with random-weight
heads of Romaine lettuce. The hearts are generally sold in bags
that include a manufacturer's or retailer's brand name along with a
Universal Product Code (UPC, a type of bar code). Compared with an
untrimmed head of Romaine lettuce, Romaine hearts require less
washing/preparation and may also be more expensive.
Processed foods are priced by ERS in a similar manner as their
fresh counterparts. Researchers identified processed foods that are
as closely comparable in nutritional quality as possible to the
same type of fruit or vegetable in fresh form. For that reason, ERS
researchers excluded apple juice blended with other juices and
banana chips made with oil. Some sweetened and flavored foods were
included because excluding all sweetened or flavored foods would
have overly restricted the selection. For example, ERS priced
canned peaches packed in juice and in various types of syrup.
Estimating the price
of buying selected foods at retail
The next step in ERS's price analysis was to estimate the
average cost of foods at retail stores on a per-pound (or per-pint
for juices) basis. To do so, the 2008 Homescan data was used to
estimate total expenditures by U.S. households on each food item
and the total quantities bought. Next, average retail costs were
calculated as the ratio of total expenditures to total quantities.
From the Nielsen data, it was estimated that households living in
the contiguous United States spent $247.1 million on frozen
concentrated orange juice, which could make 480.7 million pints.
Thus, the average retail cost of frozen concentrated juice was
estimated at 51 cents per pint ($247.1 million / 480.7 million
To estimate total expenditures and quantities, ERS aggregated
total purchases made by all households, in all seasons of the year,
in all package sizes, and at all retail store formats. Nielsen's
sample weights were applied to make the estimates representative of
what all households across the contiguous United States paid in
Calculating aggregate quantities of foods purchased by
households was more complicated than calculating aggregate
household expenditures on each type of food. Fruits and vegetables
are sold primarily by the pound or ounce. However, some items are
priced on a "count basis," such as cantaloupes for $2.50 per melon.
To convert these sales to a weight basis, ERS used the USDA
National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21 (SR).
The SR estimates the weight of a medium cantaloupe at about 1,082
grams (roughly 2.4 pounds), including the weight of the rind and
inedible cavity contents such as seeds.
the costs to consume fruits and vegetables
The final step in the analysis was to estimate the costs for
consuming fruits and vegetables per edible cup equivalent as
defined in the MyPyramid Equivalents Database, Version 2.0
(MPED). The MPED measures only the edible portion of a food item
once it has been cooked or otherwise prepared for consumption. One
pound of store-bought fresh pineapple yields 0.51 pounds of edible
pineapple after the removal of the core, crown, and parings. For
many fruits and vegetables, a 1-cup equivalent is equal to the
weight of a full measuring cup of edible food. For example, a cup
equivalent of cooked whole kernel corn weighs 164 grams whether
from fresh, frozen, or canned product. On the other hand, it takes
2 edible cups of a raw, leafy vegetable, like spinach, to make a
1-cup equivalent, but only one-half cup of edible dried fruit to
make the same.
Data on cooking yields, edible shares, and inedible shares (when
available) of fruits and vegetables are from USDA's Standard
Reference (SR) and Food Yields Summarized by Different Stages
of Preparation (Handbook 102). If weight is lost in
preparation, ERS defines a food's retail-equivalent weight
Retail-equivalent weight = weight of a cup equivalent / (1 - share
where shares are expressed as fractions. For example, the SR
reports that 10 percent of a fresh apple is inedible, while the
MPED lists the weight of a 1-cup equivalent of raw apple with skin
at 106 grams. To eat a 1-cup equivalent, households must therefore
buy 106/0.9 = 117.78 grams of whole fresh apples. In contrast, if
weight is gained in preparation, a food item's retail-equivalent
weight is defined as:
Retail-equivalent weight = weight of a cup equivalent / (1 + share
where shares are again expressed as fractions. USDA Handbook 102
reports that cooking dry beans increases their weight. The weight
of the cooked product is approximately 240 percent of the weight of
the dry beans prior to cooking. The MPED further lists the weight
of a 1-cup equivalent of cooked pinto beans at 173 grams.
Households must therefore buy 173/2.4 = 72.08 grams of dry pinto
beans at a retail store to eat a 1-cup equivalent at home.
Because cup equivalent weights are in grams, it was necessary to
convert earlier estimates of retail prices from a dollars-per-pound
basis to a dollars-per-gram basis (by dividing by 453.59), and
calculate the cost to eat a cup equivalent of a food item as:
Price per cup equivalent = (average retail price per gram) x
(retail-equivalent weight in grams).
For more information, see How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost?
Substituting fruits and vegetables
for other snacks
ERS has examined the effect of replacing one energy-dense snack
a day with a fruit or vegetable to determine the likely impact
on both households' food budgets and children's caloric intakes.
ERS researchers estimated the price per portion for 20 snack items
commonly consumed by children ages 6-13, including salty chips and
crackers, baked and sweet goods, and frozen treats. ERS also
identified and priced 20 fruits and vegetables that are potential
replacements for these snack foods.
Using data from Nielsen's 2010 Homescan panel, ERS estimated
average retail prices, following the same methodology used in
estimating the retail prices and per cup equivalents for 153 fruits
and vegetables (see How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost?).
For this comparison, however, a price "per portion" is estimated to
approximate the actual cost of consuming each food based on current
Selecting snack foods to price
A wide variety of snack foods is available at retail stores
across the Nation. ERS selected 20 snack foods from among the
snacks that children 6-13 years of age reported eating in the
2005-08 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys
(NHANES). In NHANES, participants report the types and
quantities of foods that they eat over two non-consecutive days.
The 20 selected snack foods are commonly consumed, require little
or no preparation, and are available in grocery stores and other
food retailers. Most of these snacks are high in calories,
added sugars, fat, and/or sodium, and can be considered less
healthy relative to fruits and vegetables.
Twenty fruits and vegetables (both fresh and processed) were
identified as possible replacements for snack foods. Some of these
items, such as fresh apples and bananas, are already commonly
consumed by children; others are not. For 12 of the 20 fruits and
vegetables, children reported eating, on average, less than ½-cup
equivalent (similar to a "serving" as defined in the 2010 Dietary
Guidelines for Americans and also similar to the size of
many fruit cups sold in supermarkets for snacks and lunch boxes).
It was particularly difficult to find vegetable options, as
children tend to consume most vegetables infrequently and in small
amounts. ERS researchers assumed that sweet potatoes (not commonly
consumed by children) might be an acceptable alternative snack for
children, as sweet potatoes are easy to microwave and have a sweet
taste. Similar reasoning was used to complete the list of fruit and
Estimating the retail price of selected snack foods
The next step in ERS's price analysis was to estimate the
average national price of selected snack foods at retail stores on
a per-pound basis (or per count, for popsicles and bars) using the
2010 Nielsen Homescan data. Participating households use a scanner
at home to record retail food purchases after shopping. These
scanners record items purchased, quantities bought, amount of money
paid, and date of purchase. Purchases at supermarkets,
supercenters, club stores, convenience stores, drugstores, farmers'
markets, and other types of retail facilities are all included.
The 2010 Homescan data provide limited information about
random-weight foods such as loose apples and store-baked muffins.
Thus, average retail prices are estimated only for foods such as
prepackaged apples and muffins that are sold with a Universal
Product Code (UPC), a type of bar code. The 2010 Homescan
data used for this analysis provided information on the purchases
of 60,648 households in 2010. Sample weights were applied to derive
nationally representative estimates of retail food purchases for
all households across the contiguous United States in 2010.
National average retail prices are estimated by
dividing total expenditures for each snack food by total quantities
purchased. Total expenditures are calculated by
aggregating data on all brands and package sizes for closely
related products across all stores for an entire year. For example,
"muffins" include small, medium, and large blueberry, cranberry,
bran, and other sizes and flavors of muffins sold with a UPC.
Similarly, "apples" include prepackaged bags of small and large Red
Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, and others.
This methodology gives a greater weight to more frequently
purchased varieties of a food product.
Calculating aggregate quantities of snack foods
purchased by households required converting some quantities into
pounds. For example, the Homescan data prices cantaloupes,
watermelon, and frozen treats such as popsicles and bars on a
"count basis," whereas ice-cream is priced per fluid ounce. To
convert count data on cantaloupes to a weight basis, ERS used the
National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24 (SR
24) to estimate the average weight of a medium cantaloupe
at roughly 2.4 pounds, including the weight of the rind and
inedible cavity contents. For watermelons, ERS used data from
SR 24, USDA's Food and
Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies,
Lycopene Content of Mini Watermelon Varieties Grown at Four
Locations, and the relative shares of mini and other
watermelons from the Homescan data, to estimate the average weight
of a watermelon at about 16.7 pounds. ERS chose not to convert
popsicles and bars from a count to a weight basis since a count
seemed like a more reasonable consumption unit for popsicles and
bars. For ice-cream, ERS used data from SR 24 showing that
½-cup of ice-cream weighed 66 grams (2.3 ounces), yielding a
conversion factor of 1 fluid ounce = 0.58 ounces.
Next, average retail prices were calculated as the
ratio of total expenditures to total quantities. For example, ERS
estimated that households living in the contiguous United States
spent $620.8 million to purchase 627.4 million pounds of apples,
yielding an average cost of $0.99 per pound ($620.8 million/627.4
Estimating the price of eating selected snack foods
Some retail food products, such as potato chips and cookies, can
be eaten "as is." Other foods require the consumer to remove
inedible parts or cook the food before eating, resulting in
different edible and retail weights. The number of snacks in a
pound of food also differs across foods. For example, a 16-ounce
bag of potato chips might provide 16 snacks, whereas a pound of
watermelon might provide 3 to 4 snacks after removing the inedible
rind. Thus, comparing retail prices of snacks does not help
consumers determine the impact on the food budget of buying a pound
of watermelon (at $0.24/lb) instead of a pound of cookies (at
To convert average retail prices to prices per edible ounce, ERS
used the methodology described in How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost? that
accounts for inedible parts such as watermelon rind and cooking
yields (weight lost in cooking a sweet potato or a frozen pizza).
The data for making these adjustments are available in SR
Food Yields summarized by different stages of preparation,
Agriculture Handbook 102 (AH 102). In making these
conversions, ERS defines a food's retail-equivalent weight
Retail-equivalent weight = (1/(1-inedible share))/(cooking
According to the AH 102, a baked sweet potato weighs 78
percent of its raw weight and has an additional refuse of 22
percent upon removal of the skin. Thus, in order to consume one
ounce of peeled, cooked sweet potatoes, a consumer would have to
purchase 1/((1-0.22))/0.78 = 1.64 ounces of sweet potatoes at
retail. Similarly, AH 102 shows that the cooking yield for
a frozen pizza is 93 percent. Thus, in order to consume one
ounce of pizza (from frozen to cooked), a consumer would have to
purchase (1/1/0.93) = 1.08 ounces of frozen pizza at retail.
After determining the price per edible
ounce, it was necessary to determine the
portion size to compare the cost of replacing snacks with fruits or
vegetables. ERS decided to base portion sizes on current
consumption patterns using average amounts consumed by children
ages 6-13 in the 2005-08 NHANES. Based on the assumption that
younger children would consume smaller quantities and older
children larger quantities, the analysis is limited to average
amounts consumed by children ages 6-13 because differences in
quantities consumed would affect the portion size, and therefore
the cost per portion.
To determine whether the average amounts consumed were
reasonable, ERS compared them to common portion sizes. For fruits
and vegetables, ERS used half-cup equivalents in USDA's Survey
Foods, 2003-04, Food Surveys
Research Group as the comparison, since this is similar to a
serving in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
For 12 of the 20 fruits and vegetables, the average amount
consumed was smaller than the half-cup equivalent, resulting in a
low price per portion. Since it was assumed that consumers would
replace a "less-healthy" snack with a "reasonable" amount of the
fruit or vegetable, ERS used the half-cup equivalent as the portion
size for the 12 fruits and vegetables consumed in small amounts
(that is, whenever the ½-cup serving was larger than the average
amount consumed). This would safeguard against underestimating the
budgetary impact of replacing less-healthy snack foods with fruits
and vegetables. For other snacks, average amounts consumed
were similar or larger than common portion sizes in the SR
Estimating the cost of replacing a snack with a fruit or
Replacing each of the 20 snacks with one of the 20 fruits or
vegetables yields 400 possible substitutions. The cost impact
of each substitution is illustrated in the table, "Substituting
fruits and vegetables for other snacks-impact on food costs."
Negative numbers indicate that replacing a snack with a particular
fruit or vegetable results in a higher food cost, based on portion
size and average price per portion. For example, it would cost the
household an additional 20 cents to replace a one-ounce portion of
cookies with a 5.2-ounce portion of apples. On the other hand, the
household would save 11 cents if the 5.2-ounce portion of apples
replaced a 2.6-ounce portion of Danish. It is not surprising that
some substitutions would cost more, while other substitutions would
cost less. A household making each of the 400 possible
substitutions would save a net total of $7.00 in food costs.
Estimating the caloric impact of replacing a snack with a fruit
One of the potential benefits of replacing a calorie-dense snack
with a fruit or vegetable is that it could reduce calories
consumed. Using estimated portion sizes and calorie
information from SR 24, the table, "Substituting fruits
and vegetables for other snacks-impact on caloric intake,"
illustrates the caloric impact associated with 400 possible snack
substitutions. Because caloric content can differ considerably
within a product category, the calorie impacts are based on more
specific item definitions, such as a chocolate-chip soft cookie,
canned peaches packed in light syrup, and so forth. In most
cases, replacing a snack with a fruit or vegetable reduces calories
consumed. For example, replacing a one-ounce portion of a
chocolate-chip, soft cookie for a 5.2-ounce portion of apples would
reduce caloric intake by 46 calories; replacing the 2.6-ounce fruit
Danish with apples would reduce intake by 194 calories. Although
some substitutions could save more calories than others, a child
making each of the 400 possible substitutions would save an average
of 126 calories per substitution.