Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Carbonated Beverages as a Share of Grocery Spending

The New York Times created a stir when it reported on a USDA study with the alarming headline, "In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda." Yes, the USDA study found food stamp households devoting a large share of their grocery spending to carbonated beverages. But so did households that were not receiving food stamps. The real story in the USDA study is the outsized importance of soda in the shopping cart of most American households regardless of demographic or socioeconomic characteristic.

The USDA findings were based on point-of-sale data from a leading grocery retailer—data that could be skewed by the retailer's own customer demographics. Using a different and more comprehensive data set (the 2015 Consumer Expenditure Survey), Demo Memo calculated the carbonated beverage share of spending for the average household and for households by demographic characteristic. The share is huge, regardless of the demographics. For the average household, soda ranks 4th as a share of grocery spending. In other words, carbonated beverages are the grocery item on which the average household spends more than all but three other items—fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and miscellaneous prepared food (i.e. food from the supermarket deli). The carbonated beverage share of grocery spending varies a little—but not all that much—by demographic characteristic...

  • Carbonated beverage share is highest among low-income households: Among households with incomes below $30,000, carbonated beverages rank 3rd as a share of grocery spending. Among households with incomes of $200,000 or more, they are in 14th place.
  • Carbonated beverage share is highest in two age groups: Soda ranks highest as a share of grocery spending among households headed by young adults under age 25 and older adults aged 55 to 64 (4th place). Soda is lowest as a share of grocery spending among householders aged 35 to 44 (7th place) because many are parents, and parents devote less of the grocery dollar to carbonated beverages. 
  • Carbonated beverage share is highest for the less educated: Among households in which no household member has a bachelor's degree, soda ranks 3rd as a share of grocery spending. Among households with at least one college graduate, carbonated beverages rank 10th as a share of grocery spending. 

Source: USDA study Foods Typically Purchased by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Households and Demo Memo analysis of the 2015 Consumer Expenditure Survey

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