Check It Out
FatCamera/istockphoto

From Kale to Kellogg's: How Americans Spend Money at the Grocery Store

View Slideshow
Check It Out
FatCamera/istockphoto

Check It Out

One of the questions that has stuck with humanity since day one is, "How do I feed myself?" We're way past the caveman days when the answer was, "By eating anything I can find." We now get to think about quality and variety when we shop. To that end, Cheapism analyzed consumer data and trade reports to understand how Americans shop for their groceries and found these 20 insights. Want tips and on how to spend less when food shopping? Check out 50 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store

The Grocery Store Still Dominates ...
AJ_Watt/istockphoto

The Grocery Store Still Dominates ...

First of all, we wanted to know: Is most of our food budget being spent at the grocery store? Turns out, yes. According to data from the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), half of grocery shoppers still shop for most of their food and drink at traditional grocery stores such as Kroger and Safeway.

… But Not Completely
FG Trade/istockphoto

… But Not Completely

While we spend an average of 9.7% of our disposable income on food, a lot of the food we eat isn't bought at the grocery store. In fact, about 5% of our total disposable income goes toward grocery purchases, whereas 4.7% goes toward eating out, according to the United States Department of Agriculture

More Grocery Shopping Than Any Other Type
Giselleflissak/istockphoto

More Grocery Shopping Than Any Other Type

According to 2019 Nielsen data, the average consumer makes 168 total shopping trips per year. The biggest share of those trips — about 60 per year — are at conventional grocery stores with an average of $33 spent per trip. That's measured against other types of retailers such as drug stores, dollar stores, pet stores, value grocers, and so on. The conventional grocery store figures represent a 2% growth since 2018. The biggest growth in shopping trips, however, is to "premiere" grocery stores, a 2.8% growth over 2018, with each "premiere" visit averaging a $22 expenditure.

Grocery Spending Varies by State
Image Source/istockphoto

Grocery Spending Varies by State

Business Insider reports that Washington D.C., Vermont, Hawaii, and Maine spent the most on groceries in 2017, at $4,577, $4,452, $4,115, and $4,081, respectively. The states that spent the least were Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama, and Arkansas, each spending approximately half of what D.C. spent. On average, the more rural states spent less on groceries and northern states spent more.

Top Places to Shop
KenWiedemann/istockphoto

Top Places to Shop

Our favorite grocery stores? According to survey data by international research data and analytics group YouGov, our favorite grocery store in the U.S. is Trader Joe's. The next is 7-11 — though that destination is clearly less grocery store and more convenience store. After that comes Kroger, Aldi, and Whole Foods.

Related: 28 Regional Grocery Stores That Shoppers Love 

A Different Shopping Paradigm
ThamKC/istockphoto

A Different Shopping Paradigm

In order to understand what we spend, it's important to understand why. The PMA data shows that decades ago we valued more uniform "science-based" foods because we assumed they would be safer and higher quality. Today, we value diverse "nature-oriented" products.

A Different Mealtime Paradigm
recep-bg/istockphoto

A Different Mealtime Paradigm

The PMA data also shows that while we still place a lot of moral value on shared meals with friends and family, we don't spend as much time having meals together. Snacking accounts for 50% of our "eating occasions," and half of all dinners are planned within an hour of consumption.

Related: 100 Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinners 

We Spend a Lot on Snacks
TARIK KIZILKAYA/istockphoto

We Spend a Lot on Snacks

When so much of our time is spent snacking, it follows that a lot of our shopping budget goes toward buying snack food. In fact, a recent survey of nearly 2,000 Americans found that the average consumer will spend about $30,000 on snacks in his or her lifetime.

Most Popular Snacks
bhofack2/istockphoto
Our Favorite Brands
Stephen Chernin / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC

Our Favorite Brands

The most popular grocery brand in the U.S., according to a survey by YouGov, is M&Ms, followed by Hershey's. If you exclude candy brands, the most popular brand was Quaker.

Prepared Foods are Popular
monkeybusinessimages/istockphoto

Prepared Foods Are Popular

As we get busier, we like to make mealtimes easier. According to PMA data, 19% of Americans buy prepared foods at the grocery store at least once a week. And, according to data from the Food Marketing Institute and Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education, four in 10 shoppers have purchased a meal kit in the past year, with 34% of those purchases in retail and 13% through delivery services.

Health and Quality Are Important ...
PRImageFactory/istockphoto

Health and Quality Are Important ...

When surveyed by PMA, 57% of consumers reported that the availability of high-quality produce was more important to them than price when choosing somewhere to shop. In terms of categories, 75% of shoppers said that produce was most important to them, while 67% of shoppers said they seek out healthy products.


… But Is It Just Aspirational?
AndreyPopov/istockphoto

… But Is It Just Aspirational?

However, according to the CDC, only 12.2% of adults meet the recommendation for daily fruit intake, and only 9.3% of adults met the recommended vegetable intake. In a PMA comparison, it was found that Baby Boomers ate fewer fruits and vegetables in 2014 than they did in 2004.

Related: 30 Vegetable Recipes for People Who Hate Vegetables 

The Fruits and Veggies We Do Eat
CoolBKK/istockphoto

The Fruits and Veggies We Do Eat

According to grocery trade publication The Packer, our favorite vegetable is the potato, followed by tomatoes (which we still consider a vegetable in grocery circles, apparently) and onions. Our favorite fruits are bananas, apples, and grapes. Avocados came in as the 11th favorite fruit.

What Kinds of Apples?
VLG/istockphoto

What Kinds of Apples?

While most U.S. shoppers only have access to one kind of banana, we have plenty of apples to choose from. And, according to the Deseret News, the Gala, which originated in New Zealand in the 1930s, is America's most-grown apple. Before the Gala took over, the Red Delicious was the most popular for about five decades. Honeycrisp apples, though, are predicted to outpace Gala apples eventually — in 2018, they accounted for 23.8% of U.S. apple sales

What About Kale?
PoppyB/istockphoto

What About Kale?

Kale, a vegetable that folks have both loved and loved to hate, seems to be in decline. According to Produce Market Guide, kale sales are declining both by volume and by dollars sold. Just 17% of consumers said they have purchased kale in the past year.

Related: 25 Veggies to Buy Instead of Kale 

The Rise of Coffee
pengpeng/istockphoto

The Rise of Coffee

Nielsen estimates that between June 2015 and June 2019, sales of packaged coffee in the U.S. rose .8%. That said, coffee creamer sales jumped around 2.8% per year in the same period. And, between 2018 and 2019, sales of ready-to-drink coffee products jumped 16%.

Related: How to Make Your Own Cold Brew Coffee and Save 

We Like Our (Healthy) Meat
nastya_ph/istockphoto

We Like Our (Healthy) Meat

According to the Food Marketing Institute's 2019 "The Power of Meat" report, 86% of shoppers report that they eat meat. Meat in the U.S. is a $67 billion industry, and two-thirds of meat shoppers say they look for healthier options — leaner cuts, smaller portions, etc. — when shopping for meat.

We Buy Meat at Different Intervals
4kodiak/istockphoto

We Buy Meat at Different Intervals

We Buy Meat at Different Intervals According to the same study, 40% of shoppers buy their meat for the next several days, 35% buy more than they need and freeze the surplus, and 23% of consumers — mostly Gen Zers and younger Millennials — prefer to buy meat for one meal at a time.  

But We're Open to Other Options
modesigns58/istockphoto

But We're Open to Other Options

The 2018 Power of Meat study surprising-ways-meat-department-can-save-grocery-store reported that 42% of shoppers said they would be willing to explore new cuts and new types of meat if they were pointed in the right direction by their butcher or other experts. Furthermore, Nielsen data suggests many carnivores are open to plant-based options and vice versa, with 21% of meat buyers also purchasing meat alternative, and a whopping 98% of meat-alternative buyers also purchasing meat.

Related: 15 Things Not to Buy in a Grocery Store