Inflation aside, Americans spend more for food

Americans opened their wallets to spend a record amount on food last year, even when inflation is considered, partly because they like the convenience of take-out and restaurant food, said two USDA economists. Outlays on food away from home grew by an inflation-adjusted 11 percent last year at the same time inflation was driving up prices.

Three meals a day, if you include work or TV

Americans are devoting less time to meals than they did a decade ago and waiting longer before eating them, according to two USDA analysts. The old idea of three meals a day applies to 21st century America only if you include food consumption that is secondary to something else, such as working or watching TV and movies.

For Millennials, convenience tops the grocery list

Members of the millennial generation, born between 1981 and 1996, are less likely to go to the grocery store than Baby Boomers or Gen X-ers and spend less per person when they do go to the store, write two USDA economists. "Millennials are demanding healthier and fresher food — including fruits and vegetables — when making food-at-home purchases, and they place a higher preference on convenience than to other generations."

Is where you buy groceries a signal of what you buy?

The traditional supermarket is losing its attraction for grocery shoppers, who increasingly buy their food at supercenters, dollar stores and club stores, although supermarkets remain the dominant retailer. Three USDA economists found correlations between where people buy their food, their income levels and what they buy.

Stores in food-stamp program will have to carry wider variety of healthy foods

In a step to mollify Capitol Hill, the USDA said that stores participating in the food-stamp program will have to stock a wider and deeper variety of healthy foods than they do now — but only half as many as it originally proposed. And USDA relented for the most part on a provision that would have barred retailers that sell a lot of hot food.

Report: Meal-kit customers sign up, but don’t stick around

Ninety-percent of meal-kit customers unsubscribe within six months of signing up for the service, says Fast Company, after analyzing data gathered by the market-research firm 1010data. The firm’s data indicated that only about half of customers of Blue Apron remain in the program after the first week, with numbers falling off quickly from there. The dropout rate is similar for other meal-kit companies, like Plated and HelloFresh.

Japanese mini-marts target the country’s aging population

Japanese convenience stores are stocking their shelves with extra products for the elderly now that almost 27 percent of the country is 65 or older, says NPR. For example, Lawson, a popular convenience-store chain, carries food packages labeled 1-5 for how hard the food is to chew. "The higher the level, the less need for you to chew. In the end it's porridge," says the store's manager, Masahiko Terada.

Many farmers’ market visitors are there just to socialize

Some farmers are seeing a drop in farmers' market sales, as customers steer toward prepared foods and away from fresh vegetables and fruit, says The Washington Post. Many customers coming to markets today are younger and don’t cook much. They consider the market more of an event than a source for the week’s groceries.

Apples, the best thing since sliced bread?

The bottom line in a Cornell study: If you want school children to eat more fruit, serve them sliced apples rather than whole fruit. "It sounds simplistic but even the simplest forms of inconvenience affect consumption," says David Just, professor of behavioral economics, told the Washington Post.

A test of paying for groceries online with food stamps

Four years ago, the USDA launched a pilot program that allowed food-stamp recipients to order groceries via the Internet and then pay upon delivery with their EBT cards. "Now, the USDA is embarking on a new phase of modernization, a pilot program dictated by the 2014 farm bill that will allow some websites to accept EBT cards online," says Civil Eats.

Substituting fossil fuels for labor in the kitchen

Americans spend an average of 35 minutes a day preparing meals and cleaning up after them, according to the Labor Department. "That's compared to about 50 minutes just a few decades ago," says Harvest Public Media in the fifth segment of its "Feasting on Fuel" series.