Grocery spending by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants has dropped since the lapse of Emergency Allotments (EAs) ended extra benefits, according to the SNAP Trip Tracker from consumer data specialist Numerator.
The average spend for a SNAP grocery trip fell almost $4 from $36.62 in January to $32.92 in April, by which time EAs had been phased out following their March 1 expiration, Chicago-based Numerator said Wednesday. Spend for all grocery trips, including non-SNAP purchases, were down just over $1 during the same time span.
The SNAP Emergency Allotment, initiated in March 2020, enabled all SNAP households to get an extra $95 per month in benefits, or an additional benefit up to the maximum for their household size, whichever was greater. Annual SNAP cost-of-living adjustments and the 2021 Thrifty Food Plan later expanded SNAP benefits further to support a nutritious diet in line with current food costs.
SNAP users also are buying fewer items and selecting less-expensive options, the SNAP Trip Tracker shows. From January to April, the average number of items purchased on a SNAP grocery trip dipped from 10 to 9.2, while spend per item declined from $3.66 to $3.57.
Purchases by SNAP customers are down across consumables categories but especially in proteins and prepared foods. Numerator’s trip tracker revealed that SNAP beneficiaries are eschewing categories such as refrigerated foods (19% less likely to buy in April 2023 versus April 2022), seafood and fish (18% less likely to buy), canned foods (13% less likely to buy), breakfast foods (12% less likely to buy) and meat (11% less likely to buy). The consumer researcher noted that meat was in more than a quarter (25.8%) of SNAP shopper grocery baskets in April 2022, but that percentage shrunk to 22.9% by April 2023.
Categories least affected by SNAP participants’ smaller grocery baskets include beverages, pasta, dairy and produce, as year-over-year spending declines were less pronounced versus a year ago, Numerator said. Non-alcoholic beverages were down less than a percent, appearing in 63.5% of SNAP shopper baskets in April 2023 versus in 64% in April 2022.
A report earlier this month from Numerator found that SNAP recipients are now buying fewer groceries, as units purchased fell 12% in March compared with a year before—twice the rate of decline for non-SNAP shoppers. And with the expiration of pandemic-extended benefits, the research firm in a March report highlighted SNAP customers’ impact on the grocery retail marketplace, noting that these shoppers account for 24% of total U.S. spending on consumer packaged goods.
Now, although grocery trips where SNAP benefits are used tend to be larger than non-SNAP trips, the overall volume of SNAP trips, basket sizes and units per basket have tailed off since the end of EAs, according to Numerator.
“SNAP recipients are beginning to focus on absolute price. That is translating to all parts of the shopping trip,” Numerator analyst Shawn Paustain told Winsight Grocery Business in an email. “From how much they buy to the brands they purchase (inclusive of value and private brands), SNAP recipients are looking to bring the shopping total down. This sentiment has grown significantly since February of this year, and we are seeing shifts to private label across categories, including grocery.”
SNAP consumers also are shifting retail channels, with warehouse clubs and supermarkets experiencing the biggest declines. Club stores captured 4.2% of SNAP grocery trips in April 2023, down from 4.6% a year before. Grocery stores still hold the largest share of SNAP trips, but that percentage decreased to 39.2% in April 2023 from 41.2% in April 2022.
Smaller-format retailers have reeled in these SNAP trips, according to Numerator. SNAP grocery trips are up 17% for fuel/convenience stores and 1% for dollar stores year over year, whereas all other in-store retail channels saw declines in these shopping trips.
With the recent benefits change, Numerator has been tracking SNAP and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) customer trends through its SNAP Insights Center.
“Many of Numerator’s brand and retailer partners are looking to understand the impact the reduction of SNAP funding will have on their business, as it equates to several billions of dollars’ worth of consumer spending now lost,” Paustain said. “We wanted to provide a perspective on what they could expect and, more importantly, how to proactively help this at-risk consumer group.”