Food Prices and Spending

Retail food prices partially reflect farm-level commodity prices, but packaging, processing, transportation, and other marketing costs, along with competitive factors, have a greater role in determining prices on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. Monthly price swings in grocery stores for individual food categories, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), tend to smooth out into modest yearly increases for food in general. In 2019, U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities spent $1.77 trillion on food and beverages in grocery stores and other retailers and on away-from-home meals and snacks.

Over a quarter of the U.S. food dollar is spent on eating-out services

For a typical dollar spent in 2020 by U.S. consumers on domestically produced food, including both grocery store and eating-out purchases, 27.9 cents went to foodservice establishments such as restaurants and other eating-out places. The foodservice share of the food dollar decreased after 9 years of gains as households shifted to food-at-home consumption during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the remainder of the food dollar, transportation (4.1 cents) and wholesale trade (11.9 cents) rose to their highest shares reported in the series, which provides statistics back to 1993.

U.S. food-at-home spending surpasses food-away-from-home spending in 2020

Errata: On August 20, 2021, text was revised to correct unit errors for expenditures. Expenditure values were corrected from millions of dollars to billions of dollars. The chart was not affected.

In 2020, food spending by U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities totaled $1.69 trillion, down from 1.79 trillion in 2019, partly due to the COVID-19 Recession that disrupted typical food consumption. Food-at-home spending (food purchased from supermarkets, convenience stores, warehouse club stores, supercenters, and other retailers) increased from $808.0 billion in 2019 to $876.8 billion in 2020, while food-away-from-home spending (food purchased from restaurants, fast-food places, schools, and other away-from-home eating places) decreased from $978.2 billion in 2019 to $813.4 billion in 2020. This resulted in food-at-home spending accounting for 51.9 percent of total food expenditures, the first year it has accounted for more than half of food spending since 2008, during the Great Recession.

Budget share for total food dropped by 10 percent in 2020, a new historical low

In 2020, U.S. consumers spent an average of 8.6 percent of their disposable personal income on food—divided between food at home (5.0 percent) and food away from home (3.6 percent). The share of disposable personal income spent on total food has trended downward since 1960, which has been driven by a shrinking share of income spent on food at home. However, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the sharpest annual decline in the share of disposable income spent on total food since USDA began tracking these expenditures. In 2020, the share of disposable income spent on total food decreased by 10.1 percent (from 9.6 percent in 2019). In part, this decline was the result of the largest annual increase in disposable personal income since 2000 and the sharpest decrease in food-away-from-home spending.

Food spending as a share of income declines as income rises

U.S. households with higher incomes spend more money on food, but the amount spent represents a smaller overall portion of their budgets. In 2020, households in the lowest income quintile spent an average of $4,099 on food (representing 27 percent of income), while households in the highest income quintile spent an average of $12,245 on food (representing 7 percent of income).