Grocery Spending Remains High in August

The Wall Street Journal says consumers have cut back on grocery purchases over the past month:

With Second Stimulus Checks on Hold, Americans Spend Less at the Grocery Store

Grocery shoppers are cutting back on spending, data show, a sign that Americans are hurting for cash as the federal unemployment stimulus remains on hold for most recipients.

…While sales of groceries, such as frozen dinners, cereal, soup and coffee, are still higher than they were a year ago, sales growth has slowed compared with July and prior months in the pandemic. Sales growth of frozen dinners, for instance, averaged about 9% for the three weeks ended Aug. 16, compared with around 17% for the previous two weeks, according to the IRI CPG Demand Index. Cereal sales, meanwhile, averaged a 2% increase the three weeks ended Aug. 16, compared with about 6% average growth the prior two weeks, the IRI data show.

Ahem. For starters, the BEA just released data for spending on groceries through the end of the second quarter. Here it is:

Spending on groceries skyrocketed during the first two quarters of the year thanks to more meals being eaten at home. It’s pretty obvious that this kind of growth couldn’t last forever, so of course it slowed down in August. It could hardly do anything else.

And despite the Journal’s headline, there’s no evidence that consumers are “cutting back on spending” at the grocery store. There is merely evidence that grocery sales aren’t growing as fast as they did earlier in the year. That’s a very different thing.

There’s little doubt that the end of unemployment bonuses affected spending on food and everything else starting in July. There’s also little doubt that spending on groceries will begin to fall as the country opens back up and spending on restaurant meals gets back to normal. But for now, none of that has happened. Consumers haven’t cut back on grocery purchases, they’ve just hit a new, higher plateau and are now spending at that level rather than continuing to grow forever. That’s all.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate