Last week Bloomberg interviewed the CEO of Sysco, who claims, “Restaurants are busy. They’re booming. They’re bouncing back in a strong way. They’re not up just over 2020, they’re up versus 2019 as well.” USDA statisticians agree, finding substantial increases in demand for food away from home since March 2021.

Chart showing increase in eating out expenditures

Expanded food away from home (FAFH) options have been long-awaited. If anything, insufficient supply of food service personnel has constrained expression of full demand. A big bump in Spring restaurant sales is not surprising. I am surprised that, so far, grocery sales have also continued elevated.

By August 2020 the initially huge pandemic surge in grocery demand was done. Total grocery sales increased roughly twelve percent nationwide for all of 2020. For example, Kroger reported an 8.4 percent sales increase, while Albertsons saw 11.6 percent plus. According to recent USDA research, during 2021 grocery sales have continued at about 12 percent above 2019 levels even as restaurant and other FAFH sales increase. Can this last?

As shown below, there has been some softening in grocery demand since May’s USDA report, but nothing dramatic. I am mostly impressed at how consistent grocery consumers seem to be. Deli is much stronger year-over-year because last year demand for prepared food plummeted. Seafood sales are down both because of sky-high prices and reduced supply. Otherwise consumers are buying more groceries than in 2019 or 2020 and spending more at restaurants too.