Are consumers really spending more on food away from home?

A couple days ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story that started as follows

Retail-sales figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department garnered considerable attention last month when news reports suggested they showed Americans spent more money dining out than buying groceries for the first time ever.

Some observers jumped from there and attributed the shift to the growing clout of millennials, saying they prefer breaking bread with friends at restaurants, while sad-sack baby boomers who didn’t save enough for retirement are stuck cooking at home.

But as it turns out, reports on the decline of home cooking were half baked. They demonstrate, once again, that it is important to understand how the government compiles statistics to avoid jumping to conclusions the figures don’t support.

I agree.

As the story points out, the government's data ignores sales from some major grocery establishments like Wal-Mart.

This is an issue we've been tracking in the Food Demand Survey (FooDS) for over two years now.  Our data from a nationally representative sample of consumers show it's not even close.   People spend a lot more money on food at home.  Here's the data from our second annual report.

Our most recent release, just a couple days ago shows at home consumption at about $96/week and away from home at about $53/week.  

Thus, our data clearly supports the conclusion drawn by Jo Craven McGinty in the WSJ:

The government’s monthly retail-sales report provides valuable information that reveals legitimate trends, providing users understand what the numbers represent.

In this case, no matter how you slice it, spending on dining out hasn’t surpassed spending on groceries