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Foods with “natural” labels accounted for 16 percent of U.S. consumer food spending in 2018

Monday, June 5, 2023

In 2018, food products labeled “natural” accounted for slightly more than 16 percent of all consumer retail food purchases. USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require producers to adhere to specific standards or processes to use certain label claims, such as USDA Organic. The “natural” claim, however, has minimal requirements and using the claim on a food product’s packaging does not require that the product provide any health or environmental benefits. Regulatory agencies treat the claim as meaning nothing artificial was added and the product was minimally processed. Even so, consumers sometimes attribute benefits to products labeled “natural,” research studies show. The share of products labeled “natural” varies by food category. The share of spending on “natural” products in 2018 was highest for dairy products (27.7 percent) and lowest for fruits (5.9 percent) and vegetables (5.4 percent). The data in this chart appear in the USDA, Economic Research Service report The Prevalence of the “Natural” Claim on Food Product Packaging, published in May 2023.

Farmers received larger slice of retail Cheddar cheese price in 2022

Thursday, June 1, 2023

In 2022, dairy farmers received a larger share of the retail price of Cheddar cheese than during the previous year. The ratio of what dairy farmers received for the milk used in making Cheddar cheese (farm value) compared with what consumers paid in grocery stores (retail price), called the farm share, increased to 36 percent from 29 percent in 2021. The farm value of the 10.3 pounds (1.2 gallons) of milk used to make a pound of Cheddar cheese rose 49 cents to $2.06 in 2022 from $1.57 after subtracting the value of the whey coproduct. However, the average retail cheese price increased only 32 cents to $5.76 per pound from $5.44 the previous year. U.S. dairy farmers faced high operational costs and increased their collective output by less than one tenth of one percent in 2022, leaving milk processors and cheese manufacturers to compete for limited milk supply at a higher price. Wholesale prices for Cheddar cheese rose by 21 percent when packaged in 40-pound blocks and by 31 percent for 500-pound barrels. Retailers absorbed much of these wholesale price increases instead of passing them on to consumers. This allowed domestic use of American-type cheeses (including Cheddar, Colby, Monterey, and Jack) to increase above 2021 levels. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) hosted a data training webinar in 2022 on farm-to-retail price spreads and farm share statistics. More information on farm share data can be found in the ERS Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer data product, updated in April 2023.

Food spending in Washington, DC, differs from 50-State averages

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Food spending estimates for Washington, DC, differ widely from the 50-State average estimates. From 1997 to 2020, Washington, DC, had higher inflation-adjusted per capita sales at food-away-from-home (FAFH) establishments, such as restaurants, than the State average, although the gap narrowed over time. In 1997, FAFH spending in Washington, DC, was more than 3 times the 50-State average and 1.7 times the 50-State average in 2019 and 2020. The difference could be attributed to nonresident workers commuting into Washington, DC, and spending more at FAFH establishments. FAFH spending per capita in 2019 was 24 percent higher in Washington, DC, than in the highest State (Hawaii). Meanwhile, sales at food-at-home (FAH) outlets, such as grocery stores and supercenters, across the 50 States have steadily increased, with an average annual growth rate of 0.8 percent since 1997. However, FAH spending in Washington, DC, has been more volatile and has trended downward over time. Inflation-adjusted per capita spending on FAH in Washington, DC, was 40.8 percent lower in 2019 than in 1997, before increasing 8.2 percent in 2020 during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. FAH spending in Washington, DC, was roughly equal to the 50-State average in 1997 but fell to approximately half the average from 2017 to 2020. FAH spending per capita in Washington, DC, in 2019 was 37 percent lower than the lowest State (Arkansas). This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s State-level Food Expenditure Series, which launched in May 2023 and provides annual data on food spending for each State and Washington, DC, from 1997 to 2020.

Food spending decreased unevenly across States in 2020

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States disrupted the food industry in 2020. Inflation-adjusted total U.S. food expenditures were 6.6 percent lower in 2020 than in 2019. However, individual States experienced varying degrees of food spending decline during this period. The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) newly developed State-level Food Expenditure Series helps to illustrate annual food spending changes across States since 1997, including Washington, DC. From 2019 to 2020, each State saw decreases in inflation-adjusted, per capita total food spending. The smallest decreases in food spending were in Iowa (2.2 percent), South Carolina (2.6 percent), and North Carolina (4.1 percent). The States that saw the largest decreases in inflation-adjusted, per-capita food spending were Hawaii (15 percent), Washington, DC (13.9 percent), Florida (11.8 percent), and Nevada (11.6 percent). These States typically have large out-of-State population inflows from nonresident workers and tourists. The median change of total food spending occurred in Delaware, with a decrease of 7.2 percent. These spending changes occurred as health concerns and mobility restrictions during the first year of the pandemic led consumers to spend less at restaurants and other eating out establishments in favor of relative cost-efficient outlets, such as grocery stores and supercenters. This chart is drawn from ERS’ State-level Food Expenditure Series, which launched in May 2023 and provides annual data on food spending for each State and Washington, DC, from 1997 to 2020.

Meat processing and dairy product manufacturing are largest components of food sector sales

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Errata: On April 28, the Chart of Note from Wednesday, April 26, 2023 was revised to correct the 2021 total sales, shipment values, and revenue from food and beverage manufacturing plants. The chart source was also revised to correct the survey year. No other data were affected.

Food and beverage manufacturing plants transform raw food commodities into products for intermediate or final consumption by using labor, machinery, energy, and scientific knowledge. These plants accounted for nearly $1.019 trillion or 16.8 percent of sales, shipment values, and revenue from all U.S. manufacturing plants in 2021, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census’ Annual Survey of Manufactures. Meat processing is the largest industry group in food and beverage manufacturing, with 26.2 percent of sales in 2021. Meat processing includes livestock and poultry slaughter, processing, and rendering. Dairy product manufacturing, which ranges from fluid milk to frozen desserts, accounted for the second-most sales at 12.8 percent in 2021. Other important industry groups by sales include other foods (12.4 percent), beverages (11.3 percent), and grain and oilseeds (10.4 percent). Other foods include snack foods, coffee and tea, flavorings, and dressings. This chart appears in the Manufacturing section of the USDA, Economic Research Service topic page Processing & Marketing, updated March 2023.

Share of limited-service restaurants in rural counties doubled from 1990 to 2019

Monday, April 24, 2023

The food-away-from-home retail landscape continues to evolve. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers recently examined the changing food-away-from-home landscape in nonmetropolitan counties between 1990 and 2019, with a focus on the most rural counties. As of 1990, full-service restaurants were the most common restaurant type, making up 76 percent of all food-away-from-home establishments in these counties. However, over the last several decades, this composition has shifted. While full-service restaurants remain the most common in rural counties, their prominence has fallen from about 75 percent of establishments to about 50 percent of establishments in 2019. By contrast, quick-service restaurants have become increasingly popular. Quick-service restaurants accounted for 18 percent of the total number of establishments in rural counties in 1990 but have since doubled, making up 36 percent of all food-away-from-home establishments in 2019. This shift could affect overall food options available for consumers in these rural areas. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Rural Food-Away-from-Home Landscape, 1990–2019, released in March 2023.

Most nonmetro counties had fewer than 5 restaurant options per 1,000 people in 2019

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

On August 15, the map was updated with the correct non-metro status for Aleutians West, Alaska. The text and other data were not affected.Most U.S. nonmetropolitan (rural) counties had 5 or fewer restaurants per 1,000 people in 2019, and many had fewer than 2. This means people in rural areas had fewer food-away-from-home options when wanting to dine out or grab a quick, convenient meal. Nonmetropolitan areas occupy more land in the United States away from the coasts, so residents of the Great Plains and Northern Plains regions may not only be limited in their own counties, but also would have to travel farther to reach a more urban location where restaurant and other food-away-from-home options are varied and available. A select number of counties are both nonmetropolitan and offer more than 5 options for food away from home per 1,000 people. The primary industry in these counties may explain some of these differences. Counties whose economies are most reliant on tourism/recreation typically host more food-away-from-home establishments per capita than other nonmetropolitan counties. An example of recreation-dependent counties with larger numbers of restaurants per 1,000 people can be found in the Rockies, on the western side of Colorado. This map appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report The Rural Food-Away-from-Home Landscape, 1990–2019, released March 29, 2023.

Share of online organic food sales tripled in recent years

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Markets for organic food began emerging in the 1970s as consumers became concerned about the growing use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and their effect on the environment and health. At that time, standards were developed on a State-by-State basis, and organic foods were largely sold in natural food stores. Natural food stores, both large and small, remained the major outlet for organic food sales until the mid-2000s. In 2000, USDA established the National Organic Program and set organic standards for production, along with consistent national labeling. Organic retail food sales moved into conventional grocery retailers, and made up almost 60 percent of retail sales in 2020. Organic food subscriptions such as seasonal fruit baskets, online meal boxes, and other internet sales have created new supply chains for organic food. In 2019, internet sales jumped to 5 percent from 2 percent of total sales in 2012 and rose again in 2020 as consumers responded to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, U.S. Organic Production, Markets, Consumers, and Policy, 2000–21, published March 2023.

Food retail concentration increases as geographic area shrinks

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The food retail market comprises individual firms, such as grocery stores and supercenters, that sell food products to consumers. The concentration of these retailers’ shares of the market, as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), increased over the last three decades at the national, State, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), and county levels in the United States. HHI values range from 0 to 10,000, with higher values reflecting higher levels of market concentration, fewer firms, or increasing disparity between the size of the firms in the market. On average, food retail concentration is higher at the MSA level than at the national level, and concentration is even higher once the market is defined at the county level. As the geographic market area shrinks, the market concentration in 2019 increased from 593 (national) to 1,332 (State) to 1,881 (MSA) to 3,737 (county). Trends in localized markets are likely most relevant for consumers, food-retail competitors, and policymakers. This chart appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service report A Disaggregated View of Market Concentration in the Food Retail Industry, which uses data from the National Establishment Time Series (NETS) to calculate and examine the market conditions of food retailing from 1990 to 2019.

Meat and poultry plants employed nearly 31 percent of U.S. food and beverage manufacturing workers in 2021

Monday, March 13, 2023

According to the latest available Federal data, in 2021, the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed 1.7 million people, or more than 1.1 percent of all U.S. nonfarm employment. Within the U.S. manufacturing sector, food and beverage manufacturing employees accounted for the largest share of employees (15.4 percent). In thousands of food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these employees helped to transform raw agricultural materials into food products for intermediate use or final consumption. Manufacturing jobs include processing, inspecting, packing, janitorial and guard services, product development, and recordkeeping, as well as nonproduction duties such as sales, delivery, advertising, and clerical and routine office functions. In 2021, meat and poultry plants employed the largest share of food and beverage manufacturing workers (30.6 percent), followed by bakeries (14.7 percent), and beverage plants (12.4 percent). This chart appears in the Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy section of the USDA, Economic Research Service data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated January 2023.

Food-away-from-home spending varied among outlets during first year of pandemic

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

In April 2020, as effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the U.S. economy unfolded, spending at full-service restaurants declined 71 percent compared with April 2019. Spending at limited-service—or fast-food—restaurants fell 32 percent, and spending at all other food-away-from-home establishments, such as drinking places, hotels, and motels, dropped 41 percent over the same period. Full-service restaurants typically offer food and alcohol to seated customers who pay after eating and include amenities such as ceramic dishware and non-disposable utensils. Limited-service restaurants prioritize convenience and have limited menus, sparse dining amenities, and no waitstaff. The limited physical interaction with customers made it easier for fast-food establishments to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, and by the second half of 2020, they managed to recover to pre-pandemic spending levels. Despite efforts by many full-service restaurants to expand takeout and delivery services, these outlets took slightly longer to bounce back, and returned to pre-pandemic spending in March 2021. By December 2021, both full-service and limited-service restaurant spending had fully recovered and were each about 10 percent higher than in December 2019. The data for this chart were first included in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product in February 2023 and will be updated with 2022 data in June 2023.

ERS’ Food Price Outlook forecasts enhanced with midpoints and prediction intervals

Thursday, February 23, 2023

USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) publishes price forecasts in the monthly Food Price Outlook (FPO) data product. The FPO forecasts food-at-home (FAH) prices will increase 8.6 percent in 2023, with a prediction interval of 5.6 to 11.8 percent. ERS updated the FPO forecasting methods in January 2023, and forecasts now include a midpoint and a prediction interval to represent the expected price change and range of likely price changes, respectively. The prediction interval conveys uncertainty about the forecast, starting out wider at the beginning of the year and narrowing as forecasts incorporate more months of observed data and the forecast period shortens. The prediction intervals vary in size across food categories based on price volatility and available information. In 2023, egg prices are forecast to grow the fastest (37.8 percent, with a prediction interval of 18.3 to 62.3 percent) while fresh fruit prices are predicted to experience little change (0.1 percent) and have a prediction interval of -5.6 to 6.4 percent. In general, food prices are expected to grow more slowly in 2023 than in 2022 but remain above historical average rates. FAH prices grew 11.4 percent in 2022, the largest annual increase since 1974, compared with a historical annual average of 2.5 percent from 2003–22. This chart is updated from the Amber Waves article, ERS Refines Forecasting Methods in Food Price Outlook, published February 2023.

Inflation of wheat-based product prices outpaced overall food price inflation in 2022

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Consumer prices for wheat-based products were up substantially in 2022 compared to 2021, as indicated by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) data published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Price levels of a variety of wheat products were up more than 10 percent from 2021, outpacing the rate of inflation in the broader “all food” category, which was up 9.9 percent, more than double the average increase of the previous decade. The average price level across the cereals and bakery products category was up 13 percent in 2022, well above the previous year’s increase (2.3 percent) and more than three times as large as any year in the past decade. Prices for flour and prepared flour mixes were nearly 19 percent higher in 2022, far exceeding the average from the previous decade (0.2 percent). Commodity prices for wheat were elevated in 2021 and 2022, but the increase in prices for wheat-based consumer products did not fully appear until 2022. Consumer price changes tend to lag price changes at the commodity level, partly based on the tendency of processors to purchase inputs well in advance. Rising input prices for non-wheat ingredients—such as eggs and butter, which tend to feature prominently in wheat food products—in addition to elevated labor and fuel expenses have all contributed to wheat food price inflation in 2022. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service Wheat Outlook, February 2023.

Food dollar’s property income share remained at historic high in 2021

Thursday, February 2, 2023

In 2021, the average dollar spent by U.S. consumers on domestically produced food returned 39.4 cents as property income. Property income is income received by owners of capital assets such as land, equipment, and intellectual property after they pay for intermediate inputs, labor, and output taxes. The 39.4 cents as property income marked a 0.3-cent increase from a revised 2020 estimate of 39.1 cents and the second year in a row in which property income’s share of the food dollar set a record high for USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food Dollar Series. The share of the food dollar that compensates labor through salaries and benefits was 50.3 cents in 2021, a 1.2-cent decrease from 2020. The remaining food dollar shares were each at 5.1 cents for output taxes (excise, sales, property, and severance taxes less subsidies, customs duties, and other government fees) and imports, which include imported ingredients and other inputs needed for domestic food production. Annual shifts in the primary factor shares of the food dollar may occur for a variety of reasons, including changes in the mix of foods consumers buy, the balance of food consumed at home and away from home, and changes in primary factor markets for non-food production. The data for this chart are available for the years 1997 to 2021 and can be found in Food Dollar Series, updated November 17, 2022.

Retail food price inflation in 2022 surpassed 2021 rates in most categories

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Food-at-home prices increased by 11.4 percent in 2022, more than three times the rate in 2021 (3.5 percent) and much faster than the 2.0-percent historical annual average from 2002 to 2021. Of the food categories depicted in the chart, all except beef and veal grew faster in 2022 than in 2021. In 2022, price increases surpassed 10 percent for food at home and for nine food categories. Egg prices grew at the fastest rate (32.2 percent) after an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) throughout 2022. Prices for fats and oils increased by 18.5 percent, largely because of higher dairy and oilseed prices. Prices also rose for poultry (14.6 percent) and other meats (14.2 percent). Elevated prices for wholesale flour—attributed to the conflict in Ukraine and rising fertilizer prices—and eggs contributed to a 13.0-percent price increase for cereals and bakery products. Prices for beef and veal (5.3 percent), fresh vegetables (7.0 percent), and fresh fruits (7.9 percent) rose more slowly, but all categories exceeded their historical averages. Food prices grew more quickly than the overall rate of inflation (8.0 percent), as the HPAI outbreak, the Ukraine conflict, and economy-wide inflationary pressures contributed specifically to rising food prices. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers project food-at-home prices will increase 8.0 percent in 2023, with a prediction interval of 4.5 to 11.7 percent. ERS tracks aggregate food category prices and publishes price forecasts in the monthly Food Price Outlook data product, updated January 25, 2023.

Food retailing market concentration increased more at national level than county level over past three decades

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The U.S. food retail sector experienced substantial consolidation and structural change over the last three decades. Market concentration, as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), is a measure of the extent to which market shares are concentrated between firms of the retail food sector at the national, State, Metropolitan Statistical Area, and county levels in the United States. This analysis includes all establishments with a significant portion of food sales that are likely substitutes for each other: supermarkets and other grocery (except convenience) and warehouse clubs and supercenters. Although the national market is less concentrated than the average State level, according to the HHI, national market concentration increased substantially between 1990 and 2019 (458 percent). In comparison, average county-level market concentration has remained relatively constant over the past 30 years, increasing only 94 percent. While national measures provide information about larger trends, trends in localized markets are likely more relevant for consumers, food-retail competitors, and policymakers. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service economic research report A Disaggregated View of Market Concentration in the Food Retail Industry, which uses data from the National Establishment Time Series (NETS) to calculate and examine the market conditions of food retailing from 1990 to 2019. The report published in January 2023.

One-third of U.S. food dollar spent on food services in 2021, a record high

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

In 2021, 33.6 cents of an average dollar spent on domestically produced food went to foodservice establishments, which include restaurants and other food-away-from-home outlets. At more than one-third of the 2021 food dollar, the foodservice share increased 3.5 cents over 2020 to reach its highest value in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Dollar Series. The share for food services does not include expenses paid to other industry groups, such as food, energy, and financial services. The shares for energy, advertising, finance and insurance, and legal and accounting changed less than 0.1 cent from their 2020 values, while the declines among remaining industry group shares ranged from 0.1 cent lower (packaging) to 1.0 cent lower (food processing). Annual shifts in the food dollar shares between industry groups occur for a variety of reasons, including changes in the mix of foods consumers buy, costs of materials, ingredients, and other inputs, as well as changes in the balance of food at home and away from home. The 2021 changes in the industry group shares reflect shifts toward pre-pandemic trends that were interrupted when consumers spent more on food-at-home during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The industry group shares food dollar chart is available for 1993 to 2021 and can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated November 17, 2022.

Baking ingredient prices rose in 2022

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

As people sift through holiday baking recipes and head to the store, they will find key ingredients cost more this year. The total cost for five baking staples – flour, sugar, milk, butter, and eggs – was about 22 percent higher through the first 10 months of 2022 compared with the same period in 2021. A 5-pound bag of flour, 4-pound bag of sugar, gallon of whole milk, pound of butter, and a dozen eggs cost a total $16.55 in 2022, compared with $13.55 in 2021, an increase of $3.00. Egg prices increased the fastest (60 percent) and cost about $0.98 more per dozen compared with 2021, as the egg industry was affected by the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak. Prices for flour and butter each rose by about 20 percent, adding about $0.40 to the price of a bag of flour and $0.71 to a pound of butter. Prices increased more slowly for milk (16 percent) and sugar (13 percent) in 2022, although price increases for all products were above historical averages. USDA, Economic Research Service tracks aggregate food category prices and publishes price forecasts in the monthly Food Price Outlook data product, which predicts food-at-home prices will increase between 11 and 12 percent in 2022.

Farm share of U.S. food dollar reached historic low in 2021

Monday, November 28, 2022

U.S. farm establishments received 14.5 cents per dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2021—a decrease of 1.0 cent from a revised 15.5 cents in 2020—to the lowest recorded farm share value in nearly three decades. The remaining portion of the food dollar—known as the marketing share—covers the costs of getting domestically produced food from farms to points of purchase, including costs related to packaging, transporting, processing, and selling to consumers. One contributor to the 2021 decline in farm share was a shift to food-away-from-home (FAFH) spending. Farm establishments typically receive a smaller share of FAFH spending because of the large amount of value added by FAFH outlets such as restaurants. As a result, the farm share generally decreases when FAFH spending increases faster year-over-year than food-at-home spending. FAFH spending increased markedly in 2021 after a sharp decrease early in the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Accordingly, the farm share returned to its pre-pandemic downward trend in 2021 after an increase in 2020. The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated November 17, 2022.

Rising food costs baked into Thanksgiving pies in 2022, no matter how you slice it

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Pie is a time-honored staple of Thanksgiving around the country. U.S. consumers baking a homemade apple pie this year can expect to pay about $8.76 for the ingredients, an increase of about 19.5 percent from 2021. Prices increased for all ingredients. Apples comprised about half the cost of a pie ($4.56), and prices for Granny Smith apples increased from an average $1.41 per pound in October 2021 to $1.52 per pound in October 2022. Prices increased the most for eggs (90.0 percent) and flour (34.6 percent), but rising butter costs had the largest impact on the total, adding an additional $0.68 to the cost of a pie between 2021 and 2022. If serving the apple pie a la mode, ice cream adds $0.36 per scoop. The most recent average price data are from October; prices for Thanksgiving week may vary. For example, savings may occur if grocers offer holiday discounts. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) used average price data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service Weekly Advertised Fruit and Vegetable Retail Price data to derive the cost for the ingredients of an apple pie. Forecasts for aggregate food category prices can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 22.