By Justin Fox
The arrival of Covid-19 in 2020 first brought a frenzied run on supermarkets, then a sustained grocery-shopping boom as people stopped going out to eat and turned to home cooking. Polling data hinted that it might be a permanent shift.
It wasn’t—at least not in the US, where consumer spending statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis suggest the pandemic grocery boom ended early last year. After adjusting for inflation, spending on what the BEA calls “food and beverages purchased for off-premises consumption”—which doesn’t include restaurant takeout—has fallen well below the pre-pandemic trend. By contrast, spending at restaurants and other food-services providers is right on trend.
This means the long-running shift away from home cooking in the US has resumed and perhaps even accelerated. Food services made up less than a quarter of consumer food expenditures in the 1950s; they passed 46% for the first time in October and seem destined to become the majority of US food spending before long. According to the US Department of Agriculture, which slices the data somewhat differently, household spending on “food away from home” surpassed spending on “food at home” for the first time in 2015, and after falling back in 2020, it’s now back on top by a bigger margin than ever.
Meanwhile, despite big gains in May, payroll employment at food-services and drinking establishments during the month was still 51,700 jobs short of where it was in February 2020. Restaurants are more popular than ever. Working in them still isn’t.
● Home CookingThe number of meals cooked at home per week jumped in the US from 6.2 in 2019 to 6.8 in 2020 and rose in most other countries as well, according to the Gallup World Poll, but it fell worldwide because of declines in China.
● Eating Out“Food away from home” accounted for 53.2% of US household food spending in 2022, the USDA estimates, up from 48.3% in 2020 and 43% in 1997.
● Food and DrinkFrom February 2020 to February 2021, real consumer spending on food for off-premises consumption rose 6.9%, while spending on alcoholic beverages rose 13.4%.
● Gender GapWomen spent an average of 52 minutes a day on food preparation and cleanup in 2021, according to the American Time Use Survey, while men spent an average of 25 minutes.Read next: Netflix Brings Food From Screen to Table at First Pop-Up Restaurant
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