As you may recall, in 2015 national news outlets reported a remarkable change in American eating habits: for the first time, we were spending more money on food than on groceries.
Needless to say, this was no longer the case in 2020 as the pandemic and the rise in work from home drove people back to their own kitchens. The revival of home cooking, coupled with some periods of panic buying at the start of the crisis, add up to a much larger portion of the paychecks we spend in the grocery store.
In the Seattle metropolitan area, the average weekly household spend on groceries was around $ 152 from February to August 2020. This comes from survey-based data from the market research giant Nielsen. This is an increase of 25%, or $ 30, over the same period in 2019 when the median was $ 122.
The median is half the point, which means that half of the households spent more and half less.
The data shows that food spending also increased nationally in the first few months of the pandemic, but by a more modest 15%. Perhaps spending in the Seattle area has increased more because we are among the highest metropolitan areas for the percentage of our workforce who have switched to work from home. Or maybe we hoarded more than most other places during the panic buying phase.
According to the data, the number of households in the Seattle area spending less than $ 75 a week on groceries decreased from 325,000 in early 2019 to 211,000 in the same period in 2020. Spending more than $ 200 a week increased from 444,000 to 587,000.
The Nielsen data shows that shopping in the aisles of the Seattle grocery store has increased and some items stand out. The proportion of households buying cereal boxes in the past seven days rose 10 percentage points during the pandemic, and chips / pretzels and coffee were almost as popular. There were a few exceptions as well: baby food and ready meals both decreased somewhat.
National data shows that Americans who are concerned about exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 actually go to the grocery store and rely more on grocery delivery services or grocery pickups less than they did before the pandemic. But when we go to the supermarket, we spend more than we used to.
The fact that we eat at home instead of going out to eat is only part of the story. We’re also spending more on groceries because prices have gone up. This is especially true in spring 2020, when food prices saw their largest increase in nearly 50 years.
A report found that half of U.S. shoppers say they spend more on groceries than they did before the pandemic. The main reason cited was that they eat more at home (59%), but the higher prices were not far behind (52%). Another reason for higher spending, cited by half of the respondents, was that they stock up on articles more than before.
The 12 most-visited supermarkets in the Seattle metropolitan area had the highest median spend for households that had shopped at Whole Foods in the past seven days – just under $ 200. At the other end of the spectrum, households who had shopped at Safeway in the past seven days spent an average of $ 145 on groceries.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the prices of whole foods are higher (although this is often jokingly referred to as a “whole paycheck”). This could also reflect the spending habits of a typical shopper – and according to Nielsen, the median income for a household that shopped at Whole Foods in the Seattle area is $ 94,000, compared to $ 74,000 for a household that shopped at Safeway. Households that have shopped at Whole Foods also have a slightly larger average household size, which of course adds to grocery spending.
Safeway is the most popular place to buy groceries. Almost 900,000 households have shopped there in the last seven days. That’s about ten times the number who shopped at Whole Foods.
Will the home cooking trend fade after the pandemic ends and restaurants reopen? Many Americans say they intend to move on – they think it’s more economical than eating out and healthier. But it’s also a lot more work, and not everyone finds cooking fun. One report shows that 25% of Americans are fed up with it.
Nearly 1,400 adults in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties responded to Nielsen’s survey of their shopping habits from February to August last year, and nearly 1,500 adults responded over the same period in 2019.