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Food-Away Spending Up; Visits Flat

Filed under Consumer Research, Research

Consumer expenditures on food-away-from-home rose 7.9% in 2015 (to $3,008), compared with just a 1.1% rise in spending on food-at home, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data. We know from chain quarterly reports that much of that increase came from higher menu prices, but, still, dining-out dollars accounted for a greater percentage than in 2014. In that year, food-away-from spending rose 6.2%. Average total household expenditures rose 4.6% in 2015, compared with 4.7% in 2014.

Americans still spend more of their total food dollars on food-at-home (57.2%) vs. away-from-home (42.8%), but the gap continues to close. In 2015, the average American household directed 5.37% of total expenditures for the year to food-away-from home, compared with 5.21% in 2104 and 5.14% in 2013.

Conversely, spending for at-home food has declined as a share of total spending. Last year it was 7.17% of the total,  compared with7.42% in 2014 and 7.78% in 2013.

Chain and independent restaurant operators who wonder why their sales have softened should consider this: Households with the middle 20% in income spent just 1.4% more on eating out last year, while food-at home spending declined by 6.1%. The middle class spent just $32 more on food-away-from home in 2015 than it had in 2014.

McDonald's family

Households with incomes in the bottom 20% increase spending on food-away-from-home by 9.2% (up $106), while their at-home food spending dropped (-0.3%). The top 20% in income increase away-from-home spending by 8.7%.

The 7.9% increase in spending on food-away-from-home was the fifth largest increase among all categories, trailing vehicle purchases (+21.1%), household furnishing and equipment (+15%), pensions and Social Security (+11.4%) and personal insurance (10.9%).

Single-parent households with at least one child under 18 spend more (13.4%) for food (at- and away-from-home combined) than any other demographic. Married couples with children spend 13.1% of their total on food.


Spending may be up, due in large part to menu-price inflation, but foodservice visits remained flat in Q2, as they had been in the previous quarter, according to The NPD Group.

Quick-service restaurants, the prime driver of foodservice traffic (80% of the total), were flat in Q2 after a 1% increase in Q1. Even media favorite the fast-casual sector was flat, while casual dining and midscale dining continued to lose customers.

Where is foodservice losing customer traffic? Lunch. The daypart, which accounts for one-third of total daily traffic, saw a 4% drop in Q2, according to NPD. Dinner (30% of visits) was down 1%. But breakfast (22% of traffic) continues to be the outlier, showing a 1% gain in Q2.

“Contributing to the stalled visit growth are consumers’ uncertainties about current and future economic conditions,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group restaurant industry analyst, in a release announcing the data.  “These uncertainties have put a damper on overall consumer spending. Compounding the situation for the restaurant industry is the decline in food at home inflation while at the same time restaurant operators have been increasing menu prices.”