Those scanners at the grocery store, they ingest barcodes. Never mind that Safeway knows you've switched brands of peanut butter, it's the big picture they capture, and it's depressing.
Americans spent almost $300 billion at supermarkets in the past year (the 52-week period ending June 13th, to be precise). The details, by dollar sales in 299 categories, are here. Now, supermarkets account for about half of all spending on food, but it's the only sector (including restaurants, farmers markets, convenience stores, and so on) that has the industry-wide infrastructure to track every penny we spend.
Not surprisingly, if you think about it, the number one item, about $12 billion, is carbonated beverages (Coke, Pepsi, and their cousins; bottled water and juices are counted separately). Milk and bread come in second and third, roughly $10 billion apiece. But "salty snacks" are number four, with $8.4 billion in sales. That doesn't include crackers (#16), cookies (#17), snack bars & granola (#37), or pastries & donuts (#46).
You want vegetables? Fresh, they're #30 on the list, $2.4 billion a year. Frozen is #42, $1.8 billion.
Dog food comes in at #22, $3 billion, and cat food at #35, $2 billion. Dog & cat litter (#112) are only worth about $630 million, lagging far behind toilet tissue (#25, $3 billion) and diapers (#73, $1.1 billion). Trash bags? They're in 54th place, good for $1.4 billion.
Let's see if there's anything instructive here for Washington State, which is facing a couple of momentous questions: whether to invalidate the tax on soda pop, and whether to allow the sale of liquor in grocery stores.
First, Slog has a piece today about $7 million in campaign contributions from the American Beverage Association to support I-1107, the tax rollback. Disingenuously, their website is called "Stop Grocery Taxes," and the ABA's $7 million contribution is just a drop in the bucket to the soda producers. Note that the writer of the Slog item, Dominic Holden, is, ahem, my son. We did not collaborate on this.
Now, on to alcohol. Beer accounts for fifth place in supermarket sales, with $8 billion a year. Wine is in 9th place, $5.7 billion (just ahead of cigarettes, $4.8 billion). But what about liquor and spirits, sold in supermarkets in three dozen states? A relatively lowly 31st place, a mere $2.25 billion in sales, beaten by refrigerated coleslaw, frozen novelties, laundry detergents and, yup, those fresh veggies. That's right, even when they stock the booze next to the broccoli, American shoppers still buy more Tide than Tanqueray.