Retailers have salad days now, but what about next year?

Retailers have salad days now, but what about next year?

Grocery stores have nearly had a captive market during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the statistics reflect that observation.

With walk-in business at many restaurants restricted or shut off entirely, especially early in the pandemic, consumers have been eating at home much more often than in recent years.

While away-from-home spending (restaurant and foodservice outlets) had soared above 50% in recent years, the pandemic flipped the script, with a peak of about two-thirds of consumer spending devoted to at-home eating in April. Grocery stores never had it so good. The U.S. Department of Agriculture charts the amount of money spent for food and recently made these conclusions:


The share of U.S. food expenditures occurring at grocery stores, supercenters, and other food-at-home retailers typically displays a consistent seasonal pattern.

U.S. consumers devote relatively more money to food-at-home spending in the winter months—a time of Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings. The summer months see the highest share of spending at food-away-from-home places such as restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating-out places.

While seasonal patterns have stayed constant until 2020, the share of total food spending dedicated to food at home has not. In 1998, food at home’s share was above 55 percent of total food spending throughout the year. Ten years later, 2008 saw the share of food spending devoted to food at home decrease a few percentage points despite the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

In 2018, food at home’s share was below 50 percent in all but the winter months. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended past seasonal trends and expanded food at home’s share of total food spending. Food at home in August 2020 accounted for 54 percent of total food spending, after peaking at 66 percent in April 2020.


TK: Somewhat surprisingly, food-at-home spending dropped from a high of 66% in April to just 54% in August.

If a vaccine is widely distributed, say by next April, how many more Americans will love the idea of leaving their kitchens behind? The trend toward foodservice claiming a bigger share of consumer spending on food could resume, and with gusto! Check out comments by our industry experts panel on this issue at The Packer’s West Coast Produce Expo.