- Grocery sales were essentially flat in September, eking out a gain of 0.1% over their level in August, according to estimated data released Friday by the U.S. Census Bureau. On the whole, retail sales were up 1.9% on a month-to-month basis.
- Consumer spending on groceries remains markedly above pre-pandemic levels. Sales were up 9.6% in September compared with the same period last year, while overall retail sales recorded a 5.4% increase.
- After gyrating wildly at the start of the pandemic, grocery sales have settled into a tight range, with sales up or down no more than about 2% from one month to the next since May.
Grocery stores saw huge gains in sales when the coronavirus pandemic stormed onto the scene in March, but those outsized increases have given way to a more placid pattern as consumers have settled into predictable shopping routines. Still, the slight upward change from August to September puts grocery spending back into the plus column after sales dipped 1.6% a month earlier.
Sales at grocery sales remain up sharply when compared with their activity a year ago, but the gains are starting to fade. The 9.6% year-over-year increase the sector posted in September is down from 14.4% in May.
While overall grocery spending has leveled off when looked at month-to-month and the differential with 2019 has narrowed, certain categories are continuing to surge ahead. Sales of frozen foods rose 20% in September compared with the same month last year, extending a streak of double-digit gains that has lasted 29 weeks, according to data from 210 Analytics and IRI. Meat sales, meanwhile, are up 28.3% over the period from March 15 through Oct. 4 from a year-over-year perspective, the figures show.
The data from the Census Bureau comes against a backdrop of declining grocery prices, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates. The agency’s price index for food consumed at home, issued Tuesday in conjunction with the Consumer Price Index, was down 0.4% in September compared with the previous month, its third straight monthly decline. However, the food-at-home index is up 4.1% over the past year on an unadjusted basis.
The overall Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% in September compared with August, and is up 1.4% over the past 12 months.
According to inflation data from Nielsen, a basket of popular consumer goods cost 3.5% more in September than it did during the same month in 2019, an increase the research firm linked to a decline in promotional offers. Still, the figure is down from 4.1% in August.