Take a moment and consider the following statistics:
- The average American household spend ~$7,700 per year on groceries or ~$640 per month on groceries
- The grocery industry is estimated to be a $847 billion per year market
- Walmart currently “owns” ~22% of the grocery market
Groceries and food are unique in that all Americans buy groceries and food—the difference being that food can be purchased both in its ingredient form (e.g. groceries) and its prepared form (e.g. restaurant meals)—regardless of income level, race, etc. This is literally something that we all should be interested in.
I would contend, however, that most consumers do not give a second thought to groceries outside of what they write on weekly shopping lists. Granted, there are informed consumers who seek to maximize their grocery dollars or seek to spend their grocery dollars on products that match a certain set of beliefs. In a nearly $850 billion market there are a lot of people who just go about their business in a routine.
It’s not merely about funneling dollars from corporations that do not share your beliefs—although that is a big part of the allure—but also about creating an economic system where small purveyors can access markets. If you are a producer of anything, be it food or lawn mowers or children’s toys, supply to Walmart means being big. Like really big. If you are a local grower with a seasonal schedule Walmart or Kroger will not even take your call.
However, these are the kinds of enterprises that we need to support in a world where our food increasingly comes from fewer and fewer suppliers. It is not a sustainable or resilient system to have single points of failure for entire segments of our food system. That is where we stand right now. If Tyson Foods went out of business tomorrow how much chicken would disappear from the shelves of your grocery store? My guess is a lot.
This is where our grocery spend comes into play. We can choose to spend our grocery dollars on a daily basis at stores that support local providers. The best part is that this is not a change that requires a serious capital outlay—like buying an EV or installing solar panels—and it does not require large lifestyle changes—you are still shopping for groceries after all.
The goal is to find a locally owned retailer of groceries and shop there as much as possible. It’s a little like George W. Bush imploring the American people to go shopping after the attacks on September 11th.
It’s a little more complex than that, but the idea is extremely simple.
In my household we spend an average of ~$770 per month on groceries based on actual spend going back to last summer. Yes, I have a problem with tracking things on spreadsheets. My goal is to direct as much of that monthly spend to local retailers and providers of food. It is fairly easy for me to shop local since I have access to an excellent cooperative grocery store—NewPi—and a vibrant selection of farmers’ markets when the weather improves. I would contend that most people also have access to these kinds of retail outlets. Take a moment and find your local coop.
As it stands right now for the year, our household spend is ~40% local. There is much room for improvement.