Places Where People Pay the Most for Food

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Food is a necessary component of every household’s budget. Spending on food products varies greatly and depends on many factors, from grocery store prices of fresh and processed foods, to how frequently a family eats out or eats healthy, to even the region of the country in which the food is bought.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, Americans spent about $566 billion on groceries in 2017, up from $524 billion the year before. The same report also found that Americans spent another $437 billion on dining out in 2017 — an increase of about $29 billion from 2016.

Of course, food prices are not even across all cities. Different factors affect food prices nationwide. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the places where people pay the highest food prices using The Council for Community and Economic Research’s grocery items index. The index incorporates government price data for U.S. metro areas and metro area divisions for household expenses on meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and more.

According to the BLS, consumer spending in the United States is generally up. Average expenditures per consumer totaled $60,060 in 2017, a near 5% increase from 2016. Rising food prices contributed to some of this increase. The typical consumer spent about $7,700 on food alone last year, more than $500 more than in 2016.

Grocery prices vary by city for a number of reasons. Median household income and proximity to various food sources are two large factors. Often, food prices tend to be higher in areas where the population can afford it. However, that is not the case for all cities on this list. In fact, the median annual household income in 14 of the 50 metro areas is well below the national figure of $55,322, yet these metro areas still have expensive groceries.

Metro area Avg. price, half-gallon of milk Avg. price, dozen of eggs Avg. price, frozen meal Median household income
Flagstaff, AZ $1.54 $1.83 $2.89 $51,106
Vero Beach-Indian River, FL $2.46 $1.89 $2.93 $47,446
Minot, ND $2.72 $1.43 $2.98 $62,904
Manchester, NH $3.38 $1.30 $2.51 $73,189
Baltimore, MD $2.54 $1.52 $2.83 $72,801
Thibodaux-Lafourche Parish, LA $2.83 $2.07 $2.92 $50,298
Tacoma, WA $2.04 $1.66 $2.68 $73,044
Salt Lake City, UT $1.68 $2.55 $2.64 $64,564
Kankakee, IL $1.69 $1.51 $2.58 $59,344
New Haven, CT $2.01 $1.99 $2.89 $62,715
St. George, UT $1.59 $1.29 $2.71 $52,865
Burlington-Chittenden County, VT $2.62 $2.41 $2.69 $64,127
Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick, MD $2.19 $1.54 $2.71 $93,804
Tallahassee, FL $2.43 $1.94 $2.86 $47,011
Pittsburgh, PA $1.94 $1.39 $3.24 $54,020
Wenatchee, WA $2.06 $1.68 $2.95 $52,475
Fargo-Moorhead, ND-MN $2.88 $1.64 $2.92 $55,941
Wilmington, DE $2.01 $1.63 $3.14 $63,952
Stamford, CT $2.07 $2.36 $2.90 $86,670
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA $2.43 $1.59 $2.88 $93,804
Reno-Sparks, NV $2.43 $1.85 $2.81 $55,103
Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA $2.14 $2.42 $2.71 $62,216
Cleveland, OH $1.87 $1.48 $3.24 $51,001
Orange County, CA $2.13 $2.42 $2.82 $62,216
Portland, OR $1.85 $1.75 $2.97 $62,772
Las Cruces, NM $2.36 $1.82 $3.09 $38,636
San Diego, CA $2.13 $2.42 $2.82 $66,529
Pittsfield, MA $2.23 $2.18 $3.18 $52,253
Framingham-Natick, MA $2.36 $2.19 $3.20 N/A
Providence, RI $2.77 $1.92 $2.61 $58,699
Sarasota, FL $2.60 $1.98 $2.82 $52,235
St. Cloud, MN $2.38 $1.36 $2.93 $55,995
Alexandria, VA $2.46 $1.92 $3.35 $93,804
Mount Vernon-Skagit County, WA $2.05 $1.92 $3.21 $56,433
Arlington, VA $2.41 $1.78 $3.29 $93,804
Philadelphia, PA $2.06 $2.02 $3.48 $63,952
Sacramento, CA $2.72 $2.36 $2.81 $61,686
New York (Queens), NY $3.24 $2.06 $4.01 $69,211
New York (Brooklyn), NY $2.82 $2.33 $3.88 $69,211
Fairbanks, AK $2.36 $2.03 $2.85 $73,831
Stockton, CA $2.74 $2.45 $3.08 $55,045
Seattle, WA $1.94 $1.81 $3.23 $73,044
Anchorage, AK $2.39 $2.23 $3.20 $79,225
San Francisco, CA $2.78 $3.13 $2.93 $85,947
Oakland, CA $3.15 $3.26 $2.74 $85,947
New York (Manhattan), NY $3.04 $2.35 $4.31 $69,211
Juneau, AK $2.62 $2.66 $3.35 $87,436
Kodiak, AK $2.54 $2.30 $3.99 N/A
Hilo, HI $3.14 $4.31 $4.22 $53,936
Honolulu, HI $3.87 $3.81 $3.91 $77,161

 

Grocery expenditure also varies considerably by region. Consumers in the western United States pay an average of $4,742 for groceries a year. That is much greater than what consumers pay for groceries in the South, at $3,892 a year.

Grocery spending in the Northeast and Midwest falls between those figures, with average expenditures of $4,418 and $4,028 per person per year, respectively.

Proximity to where food is grown or processed is key to both easier access to food and lower food prices, primarily for the two non-contiguous states. Both metro areas in Hawaii and all four metro areas in Alaska are among the most expensive cities to buy groceries. This is in part because both states rely on food imports, which hike up the cost of food — imported foods include anything from fresh produce to packaged goods. Between 85% to 90% of Hawaii’s food is imported.

For example, the cost of cereal in the two metro areas in Hawaii, Urban Honolulu and Hilo, is $5.92 and $7.35, respectively. In Temple, Texas, where groceries are the least expensive, a box of cereal costs just $2.55.

Of the 10 least expensive cities to buy ground beef, six are located in Texas, likely in part because the state has 12.5 million cattle — the most of any state. A similar comparison can be made for the states with the cheapest prices of milk. Seven of the 10 cities with the lowest prices for a half gallon of milk are located in the Midwest, where there are roughly 7,400 dairy farms.

To identify the cities that spend the most on food, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the grocery items index created by The Council for Community and Economic Research for all of America’s metro areas and metro area divisions. We also retrieved the average price of frozen meals, a half-gallon of milk, and a dozen eggs from C2ER. The median household income for each metro area came from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey 5-year estimate.