The internet has transformed the way people work, communicate and make purchases, but buying groceries is not yet one of them. That’s because 81% percent of Americans say they never order groceries online, while 11% say they do so at least once a month. Similarly, 88% of U.S. adults never order meal preparation kits containing fresh foods online, while 7% say they do so at least once a month.
For now, Americans are sticking with the traditional ways of getting food -- shopping for groceries in person at a grocery store, eating meals at restaurants and ordering food for take-out or delivery. At least seven in 10 U.S. adults purchase food in each of these ways at least once a month, according to a survey produced by Gallup, Washington, D.C.
Gallup's annual Consumption Habits survey, conducted July 1-12, asked respondents about ordering groceries online in 2017, and the results are essentially unchanged since then. At that time, 84% said they never order groceries online, and 9% did so at least once a month.
The slow adoption of online food ordering could indicate that consumers enjoy picking their own groceries in person or that they don't see sufficient savings of time or money to justify the switch. The delivery charges that go along with food delivery may be a factor in that.
Online grocery shopping is more common among parents and upper-income adults -- 19% of those with children under age 18 order groceries online at least monthly, as do 18% of those with annual household incomes of $100,000 or greater.
Americans between the ages of 30-49—those most likely to have young children—are also among the subgroups most inclined to get groceries via the internet.
Adults employed full-time (15%) are slightly above the national average for buying groceries online.
Based on these demographics, Gallup assumes that those ordering groceries online are doing so out of convenience and aren't daunted by the additional service charges.
Meanwhile, in-person grocery shopping shows no obvious signs of declining, with the percentages this year similar to those from 2017-2018. In-store grocery shopping is by far the most common way Americans get food, with 83% saying they shop at grocery stores at least once a week, including 37% who do so more than once a week.
More Americans report eating out weekly
Last year was the first time Gallup asked about ordering meal preparation kits, ordering takeout or delivery food and eating out at a restaurant. Although the percentages using each approach on at least a monthly basis show no meaningful change since last year, there has been an uptick in the percentage who report eating out at restaurants on a weekly basis or more often, from 45% to 53%.
The increase since 2019 in weekly dining out is mostly apparent among lower-income (from 28% to 40%) and middle-income (from 47% to 56%) families. The percentage of upper-income adults dining out at least once a week is steady (66% in 2018 and 67% in 2019), but remains higher than for other income groups.
Upper-income adults are also more likely to get takeout or delivery. Among those in households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more, 81% say they get takeout or delivery at least monthly, compared with 71% of middle-income adults and 65% of lower-income adults.
There is a bigger divide for ordering takeout and delivery by age; 82% of adults under age 50 get takeout or delivery food at least monthly compared with 57% of adults aged 50 and older.
Age is a stronger predictor than income of how often people order takeout or get delivery from a restaurant. In each income category, younger adults are significantly more likely than older adults to get food in this manner.
It is unclear if younger adults' greater tendency to get takeout or delivery is more because of convenience or more because of a lack of cooking knowledge and skills. Regardless, today's younger adults continue to regularly get food by takeout or delivery as they get older, it promises to be a growth service for restaurants in the future.
Americans have been slow to adopt food purchasing online to date, particularly when it comes to ordering groceries and other fresh food. Presumably, many of those ordering takeout or delivery are doing so online rather than in person or by phone. The question asked in this survey does not capture how those getting takeout or delivery are placing their order, so it is not possible to know from these data whether people have been quicker to adopt online ordering of restaurant meals, pizzas and fast food than online ordering of groceries and fresh foods.
The barriers for customers to order a single meal online -- particularly a favored meal from a favorite restaurant -- are far less than ordering dozens of different items needed to fill their refrigerator and pantry with several days' worth of groceries. Those who are most likely to use online grocery ordering -- namely, parents and upper-income Americans -- appear to be doing so out of convenience, even if the cost is higher. Still, less than one in five in those groups order online groceries on a regular basis.
Companies that provide online groceries, including traditional grocery stores and technology companies are still determining the best ways to provide the service and grow its user base. Online sales of fresh food have presented bigger logistical challenges than online sales of books, electronics, clothing and other goods.