What Is a Market Basket Survey?

by Virginia Cowart; Updated September 26, 2017
Fruit and vegetables belong in a nutritious market basket.

A market basket survey is a systematic study of the 20 to 40 different foods most people have in their diet. These items represent the foods needed to provide a healthful, hunger-free life. Market basket surveys cover food availability, cost, nutritional adequacy and quality, and study individual households, the community, the nation and the world.

Community Market Basket Survey

Tampa Bay, Florida, posts a weekly market basket price survey that includes 30 standard food items in the area’s five major grocery chains. The online data base covers the past 10 months so families can track store prices for items they regularly buy. For the week studied, Walmart and Target had market baskets averaging about $62. Publix and Winn-Dixie market baskets averaged $76 and Sweetbay’s basket was $71.

Specific Price Comparisons

The Tampa survey makes specific product price comparisons, such as chicken breasts at $2.90 for two pounds in one store and $3.90 a pound in another. Sales and special seasonal pricing are noted, as are consumer comments. “I buy tomatoes at the local fruit stand for 79 cents a pound rather than $1.45 in the store,” one shopper said, “and watermelons at $2.50, rather than $4.00.” A sharply worded complaint about a foul odor in one store got quick attention.

American Farm Bureau Data

Bread is a staple in the market basket survey.

The American Farm Bureau Federation began collecting food price data during the 1920s. Today, its state chapters conduct a quarterly survey to check prices of a 16-item food basket. In a Farm Bureau 2009 survey, 200 shoppers in 35 states purchased Thanksgiving dinner items to track trends in market basket food prices, and found a 4 percent decrease from 2008 for that holiday's food. That survey summary concluded that “Consumers continue to benefit from a modest, steady decline in retail food prices compared to a year ago.”

Highlighting Areas of Need

The Northside community of Madison, Wisconsin, has high concentrations of low-income residents, seniors, families without automobiles, single-mother households and African Americans, Asians and Hispanics. It does not have a grocery store. Although 10 stores carry food items, only five stock fresh produce. The Northside Market Basket survey checked what food residents could purchase in their neighborhood. A thrifty food plan market basket would cost 55 percent more in the Northside than elsewhere in Madison. Moreover, a family could not purchase a complete list of thrifty food plan items even if they shopped at all 10 community stores.

Australian Market Basket Survey

Many Australians live with little access to healthful, affordable food, particularly aboriginals, who suffer high rates of nutrition-related disease. In response, the Kimberley Market Basket Survey began in the 1970s to study minimum energy and nutrient requirements so a market basket could be developed that would lower the premature deaths associated with life in the Kimberley region. In addition to checking the quality of foods available, it looked at the cost of other items, primarily soap and tobacco products, which consume a high percentage of family income in aboriginal communities. The survey is taken annually and quarterly to check whether efforts to improve nutrition are adequate.

About the Author

Virginia Cowart is a medical writer formerly based in Chicago, whose articles appeared in JAMA and other medical publications. She is co-author of two books on anabolic steroids. Now living in Arkansas, she writes about whatever interests her.

Photo Credits

  • fruit and veggie bowl image by Leticia Wilson from Fotolia.com
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