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Enhancing understanding of food purchasing patterns in the Northeast US using multiple datasets

October 25, 2019
Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Anne Palmer, Alessandro Bonanno, Kate Clancy, Clare Cho, Rebecca Cleary and Ryan Lee

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Due to correlations between purchasing patterns and diet disparities, differences in food shopping patterns and strategies across income levels and other socio-economic characteristics is a widely-studied research area. Most extant literature uses either primary or secondary data, which are often characterized by, respectively, limited geographical scope and considerable level of detail, or wide geographical reach but low detail. That literature also reveals contrasting results based on methods, data sources and geographic location. In this paper, we use three different datasets to characterize the differences in purchasing patterns across income levels, rural–urban status and other variables of food shoppers in the Northeastern USA and compare these trends with existing research. While many of the findings corroborate previous studies, new findings include less reliance on superstores overall, except for rural respondents, and a greater reliance on limited assortment supermarkets for SNAP and low-income households. Food purchasing differences are described by race and ethnicity, income and education, and children in the household. The analysis presented here includes a portion of the work performed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers engaged in the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative project Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast (EFSNE). By using primary data from shoppers' intercept surveys, and secondary data from two large datasets, one of household food purchases and the other of food expenditures, we identify purchasing decisions holding at both the case-study (limited geography) and broader geographic (entire Northeast) levels, which both support previous findings and reveal the need for additional research in this area.