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Food Consumption Trends
Revised March 2022
USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates total food expenditures for all food consumed in the United States was $1.77 trillion in 2019. Food purchased for home consumption accounted for $808.0 billion.
According to the ERS, spending on food away from home in 2019 was $978.2 billion or 51.9 percent of total food expenditures. Restaurants, both full-service and fast food, account for about three quarters of all food-away-from-home sales. According to the National Restaurant Association, six in ten adults say they ordered takeout or delivery from a restaurant for a dinner meal last week. The United States has more than 1.0 million restaurants and foodservice outlets.
U.S. consumers are spending a smaller percentage of their income on food. According to USDA, households in the lowest income spent 27 percent of their income on food while households in the highest income quintile spent about 7 percent of their income.
The USDA compiles four food plans for individuals and families for food consumed at home in the United States. Separate food plans are compiled for Alaska and Hawaii. Weekly and monthly costs are calculated for the thrift, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal food plans. Based on data from June 2011, food for a single male, age 19-50 cost $43.10 a week on the thrifty model and $85.50 a week on the liberal cost plan. A single female, age 19-50 spent $38.40 a week on the thrifty model and $76.20 a week on the liberal food cost plan. The cost of food for a family of four with children ages 6-8 and 9-11 was estimated at $150.10 per week on the thrifty food model and $299.20 on the liberal cost plan. The food plans only accounted for meals and snacks prepared for home consumption.
Organic Food Trends
Organic agriculture, a worldwide growth industry, can be a profitable, sustainable business for agricultural producers interested in going through the certification process necessary to enter this market. Organics have continued to expand during the last few years, and industry experts are forecasting steady growth of 6 percent or higher (OTA 2018).
USDA adopted national standards for organics in October 2002. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) regulates all organic agriculture in the United States.
To contact Land-Grant University professionals working in and around organic agriculture, the National Organic Agriculture Directory is available, published and updated by Iowa State University in 2021.
According to the 2019 Certified Organic Survey (NASS 2017), the United States has 5.5 million acres used for organic production. Of that amount, 3.5 million acres were planted to organic crops and 2.0 million acres were organic pasture or rangeland.
While there were organic farms or ranches in all 50 states, 36 percent of all organic commodity sales came from California's 3,002 farms. Other states with large numbers of certified and exempt organic acres were Alaska, Montana, New York, Wisconsin, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Texas and Vermont.
Transitioning to Organics
Organic agriculture has attracted conventional producers, who make the transition due mainly to the price premiums in the market. While transitioning to organics can be confusing, many resources are now available to help producers make the change.
The USDA maintains a list of accredited certifying agents (ACAs), with 75 U.S.-based ACAs as of 2021. Individuals wishing to transition to organic should verify that the agency they select is an approved certifier. Certifiers should be contacted early and often for assistance in complying with their individual requirements and procedures. Markets should be identified, and only certified organic processors and handlers used for organic certification compliance.
The total value of farm-level organic sales reached $9.9 billion in 2019, up from $7.6 billion in 2016. Organic crops accounted for $5.78 million in sales and organic livestock, poultry and their products accounted for $4.13 million. California led the nation in organic sales, with 36 percent, or $3.6 million, of all U.S. sales.
Milk and broiler chickens were the top two certified commodities sold. Milk, valued at $1.58 million, was up 14 percent from 2016 to 2019 and broiler chickens, at $1.1 million, increased 49 percent. eggs ranked third, with sales of $887 million. Among crops, the top selling commodities were apples, lettuce and strawberries. Statistical source.
A study conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) surveyed manufacturers, distributors, and retailers about the organic industry. The survey indicated that U.S. sales of organic products, both food and and non-food, have grown to $62 billion in 2020, increasing 12 percent in the last year. Organic food sales alone rose 12.8 percent, totaling $56 billion. Organic non-food sales rose 8.5 percent, totaling nearly $5.5 billion.
Exports and Imports
In January 2011, the Commerce Department’s U.S. Census Bureau began creating agricultural product trade codes for exported and imported organic products. As of 2016, the number of trade codes for exported organic products totaled 33 and the number of trade codes for imported organic products totaled 35. Most of the trade codes for organic exports are for fresh fruits or vegetables, while most of the organic import codes are for coffee, olive oil, tea and wine.
In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed data available for 2016 showed that the 33 commodities being tracked at that time accounted for more than $548 million in export sales. Top exports were apples, grapes and lettuce.
Canada and Mexico accounted for 70 percent of the value of tracked U.S. organic exports in 2016. Top imports were bananas, coffee and olive oil, as well as corn and beans for the increasing demand for organic livestock feed.
- Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
- Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Industry, USDA ERS, October 2013.
- Organic Trade, Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, 2021
- National Organic Program
- Organic Marketing Resources, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), NCAT - A listing of resources, including prices, sales data and trends, for organic food and fiber products.
- Organic Price Report, Rodale Institute - Price Index on fruits, grains, herbs and vegetable in several U.S. market places.
- Organic Products, Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.
- Organic Resource Guide, Ag Marketing Service (AMS), USDA - Provides an overview of the USDA programs and services available to the public that either directly or indirectly support organic agriculture.
- Organics, Food Navigator-USA - Organic news topics on food and beverages are featured.
- Program Handbook, National Organic Program, AMS, USDA - The National Organic Program launched an online version of its handbook, a resource to clarify existing Federal organic requirements and offer best practices to help the regulated industry comply.
- U.S. Organic Trade Data: 2001 to 2016, Organics: World Markets and Trade, FAS, USDA, March 2013 - Exports of “selected” organic products expanded to nearly $450 million in 2012, with apples accounting for virtually all of the growth. Canada and Mexico remain top markets for the vast majority of the selected organic trade.
- 2016 Certified Organic Production Survey, NASS, USDA, 2017.
- 2008 Organic Production Survey, Census of Agriculture, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2010.
- Organic Production, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, National Ag Library, USDA.
- Organic Livestock Feed Suppliers, ATTRA, NCAT.
- Organic Production, ERS, USDA - This site includes data on the certified organic farmland acreage and livestock in the United States.
- Organic Risk Management, University of Minnesota, 2010 - This free online manual and website will help organic farmers understand the risks in organic production and make choices that minimize those risks.
- Understanding Organic Pricing and Costs of Production, ATTRA, NCAT, 2012 - This new ATTRA publication provides resources to compare organic and conventional agriculture prices, discusses organic production costs and offers tips on how to set organic crop prices. It also includes case studies of successful organic farmers and ranchers in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington.
- USDA-Certified Organic Operations, AMS, USDA - This database lists the organic production and handling operations around the world that were certified as of January 2017. A search feature allows users to search by certifying agent, country, products produced, etc.
Transitioning to Organic
- Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs), AMS, USDA - Currently, 85 certifying agents are USDA-accredited and authorized to certify operations to the USDA organic standards. Of these, 49 are based in the U.S. and 36 are based in foreign countries.
- Farmer Transition Hotline, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) - Call 888-551-GROW (4769) to get an answer to your questions about organic farming and soil building, weed and pest control, livestock and certification paperwork.
- Guide for Organic Crop Producers, ATTRA, NCAT, 2012 - This guide explains the USDA organic regulations as they apply to crop production.
- Guide for Organic Livestock Producers, ATTRA, NCAT, 2012 - This guide explains the USDA organic regulations as they apply to livestock producers.
- Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) - Through a toll-free organic farmers’ hotline, workshops, organic certification services and other methods, MOSES provides educational resources for organic farmers. Specific resources include the "Guidebook for Organic Certification," 26 pages of common certification questions and answers.
- Organic Certification of Farms and Businesses Producing Agricultural Products, ATTRA, NCAT, 2012.
- Organic 101: Five Steps to Organic Certification, USDA Blog, 2012.
Links to Other Sites
- National Organic Program, AMS, USDA.
- Organic Agriculture Program, Iowa State University Extension - The Organic Agriculture Program educates producers, consumers and policy makers in the research and extension activities in organic agriculture both on-farm and in the universities.
- The Organic Center - A center that seeks to "generate credible, peer reviewed scientific information and communicate the verifiable benefits of organic farming and products to society."
- Organic Trade Association
2016 Certified Organic Survey, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2017.
Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA.
Emerging Issues in the U.S. Organic Industry, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2009.
Food Service Industry, Market Segment, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Industry, Amber Waves, ERS, USDA, October 2013.
National Organic Program, AMS, USDA.
National Restaurant Association.
The North American Market for Organic Food and Drink, Organic Monitor, 2010.
Organic Agriculture: 2007 (United States), 2007 Census of Agriculture, NASS, USDA, 2009.
Organic Market Report, Soil Association, United Kingdom (UK), 2012 - This report is the definitive guide to organic trade in the UK.
Organic Production, ERS, USDA.
USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, USDA.
- Does 5-a-Day Pay?, Agricultural Issues Center (AIC) Issues Brief no. 27, University of California, 2004 - This study examines potential gains to growers from increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables to recommended levels in a cancer prevention diet.
- The Expanding U.S. Market for Fresh Produce, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), Iowa State University, 2004 - Examines why U.S. produce consumption is increasing.
- Trends in the Marketing of Fresh Produce and Fresh-cut Products, Roberta Cook, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California, 2007.
Economic Research Service, USDA
- The Demand for Food Away from Home: Full Service or Fast Food, 2004 - This report explains how population trends and rising incomes will affect spending on food purchased away from home. It includes estimates for growth rates in food spending at full-service and fast food restaurants.
- Food Consumption
- Food Expenditures (tables).
- Food Markets & Prices
- Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion - Monthly reports.
- Expenditures on Children by Families, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, USDA - Yearly annual reports
- Flavor Trends of 2012, Food Processing.com.
- The Food Channel's Top 10 Food Trends for 2012, The Food Channel.
- Food Surveys Research Group, Agricultural Research Service, USDA - This site offers data on U.S. food and nutrient intakes and the nutrient content of 13,000 foods.
- Food Trends to Watch Over the Next Decade, Epicurious.
- Gourmet Retailer Trends, The Gourmet Retailer - Read about the latest trends in the gourmet industry.
- Office of Consumer Goods Industries, U.S. Department of Commerce - This Web site provides outlook reports on processed foods, wine and appliances.
- Pizza Magazine, Pizza Marketing Quarterly's pizza business publication.
- Use of Private Label Foods Continues to Rise But Satisfaction with these Value-Oriented Options is Declining, Reports, The NPD Group, 2012.