How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost?
USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) has estimated average costs for over 150 fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, using 2013, 2016, and 2020 retail scanner data from Circana (formerly Information Resources Inc. [IRI]). A selection of retail establishments across the United States provides Circana with weekly retail sales data (revenue and quantity). These retail establishments include grocery stores, supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, drug stores, and liquor stores.
These data can be used to assess how much money it costs U.S. households to eat a sufficient quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables. They should not be used for making inferences about price changes over time. Although ERS researchers priced similar fruit and vegetable products for each year, they used different methods for coding the underlying Circana data, new products entered the market, and old products exited the market, among other factors.
ERS estimated the average retail per-pound price of each product (per-pint for juices). To estimate the cost of consuming each food, ERS researchers then adjusted retail quantities for the removal of inedible parts and cooking loss which occur before eating. Costs to consume foods were then estimated per edible cup equivalent as defined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. ERS assumes sole responsibility for its assumptions and calculations using the Circana data.
An edible cup equivalent is the unit of measurement used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services to report fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations. This measure differs from other government data sets, such as the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)’s Average Price Data set that reports prices for selected foods "as purchased." For example, BLS reports national average dollars-per-pound retail prices for apples and oranges. For most fruits and vegetables, a cup equivalent is the edible portion that will fit into a 1-cup measuring cup; for raisins and other dried fruit, it is the edible portion that will fit into a 1/2-cup; and for leafy vegetables, 2 cups.
This page contains documentation for the cost of fruits and vegetables as well as for a unique study of the costs and caloric effect of snack substitutions:
- Selecting fruits and vegetables to price
- Estimating the price of buying selected foods at retail
- Estimating the costs to consume fruits and vegetables
- Substituting fruits and vegetables for other snacks
Selecting fruits and vegetables to price
A wide variety of fruits and vegetables is available at retail stores across the United States. ERS priced selected types of fruits and vegetables in various fresh and processed forms. Foods identified for pricing are very specific products and include fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fruit juices, and processed fruits and vegetables (canned, frozen, or dried products). For example, apples include fresh apples and applesauce. Apples are also priced in two juice forms: ready-to-drink and frozen concentrate that must be reconstituted at home.
ERS researchers excluded organic products from the analysis. Thus, price estimates are for conventionally produced food only.
Estimating the price of buying selected foods at retail
The next step in ERS's analysis was to estimate each food’s average retail price. Using 2013, 2016, and 2020 data, researchers estimated total sales for all stores providing data to Circana for its retail scanner data product (named OmniMarket Core Outlets (formerly InfoScan)). Sales were calculated by weight and by dollars, aggregating across all stores. Average retail prices per pound or per pint were then estimated for all products as the ratio of aggregated sales in dollars to aggregated sales by weight.
While the estimate of total sales for each food item by dollars is fairly straightforward, estimating total sales by weight is more complicated. Fruits and vegetables are sold primarily by the pound or ounce. For example, whole fresh carrots are typically sold in bags weighing one, two, or five pounds. However, some other types of produce, such as melons, pineapples, and lettuce are more commonly priced per piece of fruit or per head of lettuce. For retail items sold this way, it is necessary to convert sales to dollars per pound, using a numeric conversion factor. For example, an assumption is made about the average weight in pounds of a typical melon, a typical pineapple, and a typical head of lettuce.
Retail price estimates calculated by ERS are very broad averages. Costs are defined as the average prices paid by all U.S. households for a food product over a year, including purchases in different package sizes, under different brand names, and at different types of retail outlets. Of course, prices do vary seasonally, and annual averages may disproportionately reflect in-season prices in some cases. Retail food prices can also vary between supercenters, supermarkets, wholesale club stores, and convenience stores, among other retail formats.
Estimating the costs to consume fruits and vegetables
The final step in the analysis was to estimate a household’s costs for consuming fruits and vegetables per edible cup equivalent. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations in cup equivalents. For most fruits and vegetables, a cup equivalent is the amount of the edible portion of a fruit or vegetable (e.g., minus pits or peels) that will fit in a standard 1-cup measuring cup. But not always. Some foods are more concentrated, and some are airier or contain more water. A cup equivalent for lettuce and other raw leafy vegetables is 2 cups; for raisins and other dried fruits, it is a 1/2-cup.
The USDA Food Pattern Equivalents Database (FPED) reports the weight in grams of a cup equivalent of different fruits and vegetables. One cup equivalent of cooked whole kernel corn weighs 165 grams whether from a fresh, frozen, or canned product whereas one cup equivalent of fresh raw apple with skin weighs 110 grams.
Costs to consume foods per edible cup equivalent were calculated by adjusting retail prices for the removal of inedible parts and cooking loss that occur prior to consumption. For example, one pound of store-bought fresh pineapple yields 0.51 pounds of edible fruit after the removal of the core, crown, and parings. Frozen spinach also loses weight when cooked. Preparing a 10-ounce package yields 220 grams of cooked vegetable.
Data on cooking yields, edible shares, and inedible shares of fruits and vegetables are from USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR), the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS), and Food Yields Summarized by Different Stages of Preparation, Agriculture Handbook 102 (AH102). If weight is lost in preparation, ERS defines a food's retail-equivalent weight as:
Retail-equivalent weight = weight of a cup equivalent / (1 - share lost)
where shares are expressed as fractions. For example, the SR reports that 10 percent of a fresh apple is inedible, while the FPED lists the weight of a 1-cup equivalent of raw apple with skin at 110 grams. To eat a 1-cup equivalent, households must therefore buy 110/0.9 = 122.22 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 gained)
where shares are again expressed as fractions. The FNDDS reports that cooking dry pinto beans increases their weight. The weight of the cooked product is 239.9 percent of the weight of the dry beans prior to cooking. The FPED further lists the weight of a 1-cup equivalent of cooked pinto beans at 175 grams. Households must therefore buy 175/2.399 = 72.95 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 dollars-per-pound to dollars-per-gram (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).
Both preparation yield factors and cup-equivalent weights are different for each product. ERS's specific formula for each fruit and vegetable is displayed in the data tables.
Substituting fruits and vegetables for other snacks
Because the consumption of snacks among children has increased markedly over the last three to four decades, ERS 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. The study was conducted in 2012 using data from Nielsen's 2010 Homescan panel. Households participating in Nielsen's Homescan panel recorded their food purchases at retail stores, including quantities bought, amount of money paid, and date of purchase. ERS estimated average retail prices, following the same method used in estimating the retail prices and per cup equivalents.
Selecting snack foods to price
Retail stores in the United States offer a wide variety of snack foods. ERS selected 20 snack foods from among those that children 6–13 years of age reported eating in the 2005–08 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES); these snacks include salty chips and crackers, baked and sweet goods, and frozen treats. 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.
ERS also identified and priced 20 fruits and vegetables (both fresh and processed) that are possible replacements for these 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, on average, eating less than 1/2-cup equivalent; this amount approximates a "serving" as defined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is 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 these tend to be consumed by children infrequently and in small amounts. ERS researchers assumed that sweet potatoes (not commonly consumed by children) might be an acceptable snack alternative 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 vegetable snack substitutions.
Results show that replacing a calorie-dense snack food with a fruit or vegetable could reduce calorie intake without compromising a household’s food budget. See: "Gobbling Up Snacks: Cause or Potential Cure for Childhood Obesity?"
Estimating the retail price of selected snack foods
The next step in ERS's price analysis was to estimate the average national per-pound price of selected snack foods at retail stores (or per-count, for popsicles and bars) using the 2010 Nielsen Homescan data. Participating households used a scanner at home to record retail food purchases after shopping. These scanners recorded 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 provided limited information about random-weight foods such as individual 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 were estimated by dividing total expenditures for each snack food by total quantities purchased. Total expenditures were 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 method 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 weight, ERS used the USDA 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 counts to weight 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 a 1/2-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 million pounds).
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. Also, the number of snacks in a pound of food 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. Comparing retail prices per pound of watermelon (at $0.24/lb) versus a pound of cookies (at $2.73/lb) will not help consumers determine the impact on their food budget.
To convert average retail prices to prices per edible ounce, ERS used the method described in How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost? to account 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 24 and Food Yields Summarized by Different Stages of Preparation, Agriculture Handbook 102 (AH102). In making these conversions, ERS defines a food's retail-equivalent weight as:
Retail-equivalent weight = (1 / (1 - inedible share)) / (cooking yield).
According to the AH102, a baked sweet potato weighs 78 percent of its raw weight and has an additional refuse of 22 percent upon removal of the skin. 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, AH102 shows that the cooking yield for a frozen pizza is 93 percent. Thus, to consume one ounce of pizza (from frozen to cooked), a consumer would have to purchase 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 1/2-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 1/2-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 1/2-cup equivalent as the portion size for the 12 fruits and vegetables consumed in small amounts (that is, whenever the 1/2-cup serving was larger than the average amount consumed). This would safeguard against underestimating the budgetary effect 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 24.
Estimating the cost of replacing a snack with a fruit or vegetable
Replacing each of the 20 snacks with one of the 20 fruits or vegetables yields 400 possible substitutions. For example, it would cost a household an additional 20 cents to replace a one-ounce portion of cookies with a 5.2-ounce portion of apples. Conversely, a household would save 11 cents if the 5.2-ounce portion of apples replaced a 2.6-ounce portion of fruit Danish pastry. 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 effect of replacing a snack with a fruit or vegetable
One of the potential benefits of replacing a calorie-dense snack with a fruit or vegetable is that it could reduce calories consumed. For example, replacing a one-ounce portion of a soft chocolate-chip cookie for a 5.2-ounce portion of apples would reduce caloric intake by 46 calories; replacing the 2.6-ounce apple Danish pastry 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.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service (ERS), Fruit and Vegetable Prices, May 2023.