County-level Data Show Changes in Number and Concentration of Food Stores

Posted on 05/31/2018 at 02:51 PM by Christa Hartsook

ERS’s Food Environment Atlas assembles statistics on over 275 food environment indicators at the county or State level that provide a spatial overview of factors that can influence food choices and diet quality. One set of indicators focuses on the number and density of different types of stores that sell food. The Atlas provides a county-level count—both in total and on a per capita basis—of four types of stores. Understanding the geographic distribution of different types of food stores in a county, and whether that distribution has changed over time, is important to the economic well-being of communities for reasons related to employment opportunities, tax revenues, as well as business development.

This county-level picture of the food retailing landscape also provides a starting point for measuring access to healthy, affordable food—a measure explored in more detail in another ERS mapping tool, the Food Access Research Atlas. The Food Access Research Atlas allows users to investigate multiple measures of access at the census tract level. These measures include a population’s distance from residence to a large grocery store, supermarket, or supercenter; household availability of a vehicle to drive to the stores; and the poverty rate and median family income for census tracts.

The four types of stores mapped in the Food Environment Atlas are:

  • Grocery stores (supermarkets), which include a full line of major food departments such as canned and frozen foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh and prepared meats, fish, and poultry.
  • Supercenters and warehouse club stores, which have a full line of major food departments, along with a wide variety of general merchandise, such as apparel, furniture, and appliances.
  • Convenience stores, which sell a limited line of nonfood goods and limited foods, such as milk, bread, soda, and snacks.
  • Specialized food stores, which include retail bakeries, meat and seafood markets, dairy stores, and produce markets.

Between 2009 and 2014, the number of grocery stores in the United States grew from 63,619 to 65,975, an increase of 4 percent. The number of convenience stores grew by 4 percent as well, but their numbers rose from 120,581 to 124,879. The greatest percentage jump in the types of stores available to consumers was for supercenters and warehouse club stores. These stores saw an 18-percent increase in their numbers between 2009 and 2014 but still totaled only 5,307 stores in 2014. Specialized food stores saw a 6-percent decline in store numbers over this period. Preference for one-stop shopping by some consumers may be playing a role in the increase in supercenters and warehouse club stores and the decline in specialized food stores.

Read the full report from USDA ERS.

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