Food sales in restaurants trumped grocers

May 26 2015
By Corey Geiger

people eating in a restaurant

Americans are now eating more meals in restaurants than at home. That is a historical first, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data that has been officially tracked since 1992.

In March data, restaurant sales grew 0.7 percent over the previous month while the grocery aisle was off 0.6 percent. When looking at the past 12 months, restaurant sales grew 7.7 percent annually while grocery store purchases expanded just 2.1 percent.

Before we delve into that situation, it should be noted that U.S. Department of Commerce data does not have the ability to gather all grocery store data as the category has been evolving as of late.

Government food sales data does not include big names like Walmart, Target and Costco. In the case of Walmart, more than half of the stores' sales are food. In collecting the data, the government counts these large box stores as "general merchandise retailers." Even with that missing data, restaurants have been gaining ground steadily on "prepared meals."

In the dairy case, the growing "eat-away-from-home" trend has been good for cheese, yogurt and butter, as those products have been well featured in restaurant entrees. Meanwhile, a downturn in breakfast cereal has contributed to the drop in fluid milk consumption. It has been estimated that one-third of all milk gets consumed on breakfast cereal . . . a meal often eaten at home. Then there is the simple fact that people are drinking less milk.

The average restaurant meal cost $6.96 last year while a similar in-home meal was $2.24. The cost of restaurant meals, which is already $4.72 higher than in-home meals, was growing at a faster rate than grocery store-based meals, according to the NDP group. This ongoing restaurant versus grocery store food sales trend has had a profound impact on dairy product sales.

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May 26, 2015