With less aid to buy groceries, SNAP recipients are spending more on fast food, study finds

A new report shows that grocery inflation made restaurant meals almost as economical as cooking at home.
SNAP sign
With less money for groceries, recipients are turning more frequently to restaurants. | Photo: Shutterstock

In the wake of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamp assistance, recipients of the aid have increased their fast-food spending, according to data from Circana released this week.

Monthly SNAP payments were raised by an average of about $95 per household during the pandemic in the form of emergency assistance, but that benefit ended March 1. Research firm Circana (formerly IRI) found that about a third (35%) of the discontinued aid was formerly used for food and beverage purchases from supermarkets. The reduction in SNAP meal subsidies amounted to about $23 billion.

Yet recipients cut their purchases of nonfood items with SNAP funds by three times as much, according to Circana. Simultaneously, grocery inflation outpaced the rise in menu prices, narrowing the gap between the costs of home-cooked and restaurant meals. The deals offered through restaurant loyalty programs also helped in bringing down the cost of meals prepared outside the home.

As a result, the research company found, SNAP recipients stepped up their visits to fast-food restaurants appreciatively. With less aid money to buy groceries, program participants had to dig deeper into their own resources to buy food, and restaurant meals were almost as economical as cooking.

Pizzerias snagged the biggest part of the increase, while hamburger places captured 18% of the traffic and expenditures of SNAP participants, Circana said. Checks for SNAP recipients averaged $8 at pizza places and $6.56 at a burger restaurant.

“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,” Alastair Steel, a client engagement executive at Circana, said in a statement. “The SNAP benefits cuts are still likely to impact food and beverage spending for these consumers in the months ahead.”



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