Non-grocery store packaged food purchases rise, nutritional value drops

The study did not consider why Americans are increasingly buying food at non-grocery stores, but the food is less nutritious than that bought at actual grocery stores.
By Stephen Feller   |   Oct. 5, 2015 at 3:29 PM
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Oct. 5 (UPI) -- A new study of food purchase statistics revealed the Americans are buying more of their food from non-grocery stores, and their selections include an increasing number of packaged food purchases, or PFPs, which often have poor nutrient profiles.

Researchers said that PFPs are widely available across all types of store they considered for the study, including grocery stores.

"Previous studies on the relationship between the food environment and its association to diet have paid insufficient attention to the types of stores where people shop for food, what they actually purchase, and the nutrient profile of those purchases," said Dr. Barry M. Popkin, a researcher at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, in a press release. "The present study demonstrated that the energy, total sugar, sodium, and saturated fat densities of household PFPs from mass merchandisers, warehouse clubs, and convenience stores were higher compared with grocery stores."

Researchers looked at food purchasing history for 652,023 households in 52 metropolitan and 24 non-metropolitan areas collected by the National Consumer Panel between 2000 and 2012. The data was self-reported by consumers, who scanned packages for all the food they purchased during that time.

The data was analyzed for household PFP trends, household purchases of key food and beverage groups based on caloric contribution, and mean caloric and nutrient densities -- sugars, saturated fat, and sodium -- of household PFPs were analyzed by store type. Researchers broke store types into 7 groups: Warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam's; Mass merchandisers, like Walmart and Target; Grocery chains; Non-chain grocery stores; Convenience, drug and dollar stores such as Seven Eleven, CVS and Dollar General; Ethnic-specialty stores; and other random retailers such as department and book stores.

Food purchases were found to have dropped at grocery chains during the 12 years for which data was available, from 58.5 percent to 46.3 percent, and at non-chains from 10.3 percent to 5.2 percent. During that time, however, it increased from 13.1 to 23.9 percent for mass merchandisers, 3.6 to 5.9 percent for convenience stores, and from 6.2 to 9.8 percent for warehouse clubs.

The top percentage PFPs per household were savory snacks, grain-based desserts, and regular soft drinks. The data also showed non-grocery store food purchases tended to have higher energy, total sugar, sodium, and saturated fat densities of household PFPs than from mass merchandisers.

The study is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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