The wonderful NPR podcast Planet Money has a great set of charts up on its blog today revealing that Americans are actually spending less on food today than they did in 1982. Why? Well, for starters, they’re buying less fresh food and more processed food, which actually has some effect on the efficiencies used to put food on the table. (The large manufacturers buy meat and vegetables in bulk, cook them up with cheaper ingredients and create meals that can be sold at bargain prices.)
What’s interesting is that while Americans are buying less meat and more processed foods (which includes frozen meals, snacks and canned foods), the proportions of other types of items (beverages, fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy) haven’t really changed. And yet Americans are only spending around 8-9% of their income on food today as opposed to around 12-13% in 1982. That’s likely because most items have actually gone down in price since 1982 in inflation-adjusted dollars, while only a handful of more inelastic products (peppers, grapefruit, bread, flour, ice cream) have gone up.
Pretty fascinating, especially when you consider that inflation-adjusted American wages have not actually increased when adjusted for inflation, though household income has gone up 23% due to both parents working.
Our own Joyce Davis pointed out this morning that the reduced spending at the grocery store might also be due to the fact that Americans are eating out more than ever. (18% of meals were eaten out in the late 1970s; it was around 32% by the mid-1990s.)
Check out the graphics for yourself – I think you’ll find them interesting!