The March 1 expiration of SNAP Emergency Allotment (EA) benefits is already having an impact on consumer behavior, with a ripple effect on the grocery industry, according to a new report from market research firm Numerator.
This Chicago-based data company on Wednesday announced the launch of its SNAP Consumer Insights Center, revealing that SNAP recipients are buying fewer groceries than they were a year ago. Grocery units purchased by the group fell 12% in March compared to the year before. That’s nearly twice the rate of decline for shoppers who do not receive Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Numerator found.
The SNAP EA program was approved by Congress in March 2020 to help people who were already receiving nutrition benefits navigate the challenges of the pandemic.
With the expiration of EA benefits, about 32 million people are receiving reduced monthly benefits, with the average household receiving $95 less per month for groceries than they were a year ago, according to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 42.6 million Americans participate in SNAP, according to federal data.
A household of four with a net monthly income of $2,000 received nearly $900 more in SNAP benefits than it did before March 2020. The cessation of the EA program means this household gets $600 less for groceries each month, the Census Bureau said.
A quarter of all households receiving SNAP benefits said they “sometimes” or “often” do not have enough to eat, following the reduction in benefits, according to the Census report.
Now, 58% of those enrolled in SNAP say their monthly benefits only allow for two weeks’ worth of groceries, compared to 41% who said the same thing in September, Numerator said.
“Being on SNAP and losing the additional emergency funding we had been getting when inflation is so high has been devastating,” one SNAP recipient told hunger-relief organization Feeding America, according to a statement. “Where we once we food secure being on benefits, that is no longer the case.”
All SNAP-eligible grocery departments are seeing declines in unit volumes among recipients, Numerator found, but some have seen greater impacts. SNAP-recipient purchases of shelf-stable meals were down 21% in March compared to the year before, meat purchases declined 18%, frozen foods fell 16%, and herbs and spices were down 16%, the data firm said.
Consumers who’ve seen a reduction in benefits are trying different strategies to mitigate the impact of the EA loss.
“SNAP consumers are trading down to reduce absolute costs,” Numerator said in its report.
Forty-nine percent of SNAP recipients polled in April said they had switched to cheaper brands, up from 43% in February, and 39% said they were purchasing more private-label brands, up from 29%.
SNAP recipients who saw a reduction in benefits are also seeking out private-label products beyond grocery, with significant growth in baby, home & garden, and health & beauty, the report said.
Shoppers impacted by the benefit reduction are also cutting back on non-food purchases, buying smaller package sizes and buying less fresh produce, Numerator said.
“The only cost-saving measure that declined from February to April was ‘stocking up during a sale,’” Numerator said.
SNAP recipients represent 24% of total U.S. spending on consumer packaged goods (CPGs), Numerator found in a report published in March.