SNAP Households Cut Back on Food & Discretionary Spending

This is a result of COVID-19 relief benefits ending in March.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ended COVID-19 relief benefits across the United States in March, reducing food and beverage aid by $23 billion annually.

As a result, in the initial months after the benefit cutbacks, SNAP households reduced their monthly food and beverage spending, on average, by about 35 percent of cut benefits. For example, if SNAP benefits were cut by $200, the reduced food and beverage spending would be about $70 less per month, according to Circana, formerly IRI and The NPD Group.

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SNAP households have also decreased their spending on nonfood items at more than three times the rate of their spending on food and beverages, which is a reversal from their spending in the early stages of the pandemic when COVID-related benefits, including SNAP benefit enhancements, provided more spending money for these households. The savings from discretionary spending is now subsidizing SNAP households at and away-from-home food and beverage spending, Circana found.  

SNAP benefits can only be used for food and beverage purchases at grocery stores and other retail outlets. Still, with the money saved from reducing nonfood purchases, and competitive pricing to making a meal at home, SNAP households have increased their use of quick-service restaurants. Pizza chains represented the largest share of their visits, and hamburger quick-service restaurants represented 18 percent of SNAP recipients' spending and visits. The average eater's check at a quick-service pizza chain is $8, and $6.56 at a hamburger chain, making these restaurants an affordable option for SNAP households. Loyalty rewards and deals also contribute to the affordability of these restaurant meals.   

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"We continue to monitor changes in buying behaviors of SNAP households," said Alastair Steel, executive, client engagement at Circana. "Over the coming months, SNAP households may reduce their discretionary spending more than they have to date to free up dollars for food and beverage purchases. The SNAP benefits cuts are still likely to impact food and beverage spending for these consumers in the months ahead."

SNAP provides food benefits to low-income families to supplement their grocery budget so they can afford nutritious food essential to health and well-being.

Chicago-based Circana serves as an advisor on the complexity of consumer behavior. Through advanced analytics, cross-industry data and subject matter expertise, Circana provides insights and research that helps clients unlock business growth.