Variety-Adjusted Food Prices Are Slightly Higher in Census Tracts Where Households Have Limited Access to a Supermarket

By Ver Ploeg, Michele; Fan, Linlin | Amber Waves, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Variety-Adjusted Food Prices Are Slightly Higher in Census Tracts Where Households Have Limited Access to a Supermarket


Ver Ploeg, Michele, Fan, Linlin, Amber Waves


Food prices in neighborhoods without a supermarket, or with a limited number of such stores, may be higher than those in neighborhoods where there is competition among stores. Consumers in neighborhoods with limited numbers of supermarkets would have to pay the higher prices or travel farther to shop for their foods, incurring travel time and expenses. This would add to the challenges already faced by households with low incomes or without a vehicle.

New research using data collected as part of USDA's 2012-13 National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) examined how food prices differ between urban areas with limited access to supermarkets and urban areas with better access. Low-access urban census tracts are defined as tracts where at least 500 people or 33 percent of the population live more than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store. In high-access urban census tracts, fewer than 500 people or 33 percent of the population live more than 1 mile from one of these stores.

Store-level scanner data for 2012 from IRI's InfoScan were used to calculate a census tract-level price index that takes into account the lack of availability of some foods in some locations. This variety-adjusted price index captures price differences for the foods available in both low- and high-access areas, and it adjusts for differences in the variety of foods stocked in stores in the two access areas. For example, if commonly consumed food items such as apples or broccoli are not available in the area, then the varietyadjusted price index of the area will be higher than other areas. …

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