People source food in a variety of ways from growing their own to relying on prepared meals. Ideally, people and families have the access and resources to purchase the types of food that support a healthy diet regardless of their location or income. Understanding the availability of food shopping locations and how the numbers of stores are changing provides some insights into which areas of the state offer more or fewer choices.
Here we look at four different types of stores to purchase food:
- Grocery stores
- Supercenters and warehouse club stores
- Convenience stores
- Specialized food stores
This is not an exhaustive list, often people source food through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs and farmers markets but we do not have a reliable count and location of all of these locations available on a yearly basis.
Focusing on the four types of stores with the best reliable data, we find that Oregon is similar to the nation in many ways. We then examine changes in the number and types of food stores in Oregon’s counties.
Convenience stores are the most common type of food store
In Oregon 54% of all food shopping locations are convenience stores, nationally these stores are 57% of all food shopping locations. This category of stores includes stand-alone convenience stores and gas stations with convenience stores but not stand alone gas stations. Grocery stores are the next largest category at 27%, followed by specialized food stores at 13% and finally supercenters and warehouse club stores at 6%. Figure 1 compares the shares of food stores by type in Oregon to the US, a higher share of food shopping locations in Oregon are specialized food stores or supercenter and warehouse club stores.
Warehouse clubs and supercenters are the fastest growing type of food store
Oregon has added a net total of 77 food stores in the last 5 years. Statewide, the number of food stores increased 2.9% in Oregon, slightly faster than the US average. Growth in convenience stores accounted for 43 of these new stores. The number of warehouse clubs and supercenters has increased the fastest at 7%. In the last 5 years, Oregon has added 10 new warehouse clubs and supercenter stores.
Figure 2 compares change by store type between the US average and Oregon, warehouse clubs and supercenters are expanding the fastest in both places although on average the US is adding these stores at a faster rate. This type of food store is the smallest by total number, but each individual store is often far larger than the other food store types and the food sections of each store may vary in size. The number of specialty food stores declined nationally (-166 stores) while they increased in Oregon (+5 stores).
Changes in the number of food stores by County
Change in the total number of stores varied widely across Oregon’s counties. Yamhill lost the most food stores (-7) while Douglas (+11), Lane (+17), Marion (+22), and Multnomah (+42) added the most food stores. These totals obscure information about the type of stores and the likely impact to food access. For example, Yamhill lost 12 convenience stores and gained 2 specialty food stores and 3 supermarkets and grocery stores. It is likely that overall access to fresh and healthy food increased in the county; although access by neighborhood may have declined and the county may have less access to prepared foods.
Some counties experienced changes across all four types of food stores. Douglas gained a total of 11 stores which reflects the loss of 1 specialty food store, 4 new supermarkets, 6 new convenience stores and 2 new warehouse clubs and supercenters. In contrast, the type and number of food stores was unchanged in Wheeler and Gilliam counties. Data for all counties can be found in Table 1 below.
Oregon’s counties vary widely and the gain or loss of a single store can have a larger or smaller impact depending on the county’s total population. Morrow experienced the largest percentage increase in the number of food stores, increasing from 1 store in 2011 to 4 stores in 2016. How did this likely affect access to food? In 2011 the county reported 1 supermarket and by 2016 reported 3 new convenience stores. The opportunities to purchase food have increased but most of these new options are likely fully prepared meals, frozen food items, or snacks. Find data for your county in the table below.
Data can help us understanding how things are changing at a national and state level, but examining this data locally can be hindered by a lack of context, especially in small places. No data source is perfect and sometimes a store might change slightly and be re-classified. This may explain why Sherman reported 5 stores in both years but over time the county has lost 2 supermarkets and gained 2 convenience stores. Store reclassification may also explain the loss of a specialty food store and the addition of a supermarket in Wallowa. Without more details, we are unable to draw many conclusions about how access to food has changed from the change in the number of food stores among Oregon’s smallest and most rural counties.
Find information about your county’s total number of grocery stores, population per grocery store, and total number of specialty food stores on the Rural Community Explorer.
Note: This analysis was inspired by a similar article published in the ERS Amber Waves, we have updated the information to reflect the most recently available data and changed the focus from Missouri to Oregon.
Acknowledgements: Shannon Caplan and Benjamin Sussman Antolin from the Rural Community Explorer provided input and data for this analysis.