National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

Retailers can get stung if they overhype deals to consumers. That’s the lesson learned from news that a customer of Kohl’s found the court’s favor after suing over what he called deceptive pricing techniques.

I love those Kohl's scratch-off discounts as much as the next guy, but are they real?

Check out the coverage from The Daily Mail and and Courthouse News Service

The plaintiff, Antonio Hinojos bought a Samsonite suitcase that was advertised as 50% off its “original price.” In fact Kohl’s routinely sold that item at the “sale” price, and Hinojos claimed he wouldn’t have purchased that and other items if he had know the discount was misrepresented.

Of course, there is no “original” price for fresh produce, but the court case is a reminder that slick sales techniques can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.

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The share of the food market accounted for by government purchases has increased more than tenfold since 1929.

Detailed data on consumer expenditures for food is available from a dataset from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Find the USDA ERS food expenditure series at this link.

There are various data sets of interest, but they are aggregated and not divided by food group. A couple of datasets that caught my eye was spreadsheet food expenditures by source of funds, and share of expenditures by source of funds.

The spreadsheet showing share of food expenditures by source of funds reveals the growing role of government money (including food stamps and WIC) in U.S. food purchases. Government accounted for just 0.8% of purchases in 1929, compared with 74.7% by families and individuals,  19% produced at home and 5.5% purchased by businesses.

By 1950, families and individuals accounted for 79.4% of U.S. food purchases, compared with 2.3% purchased by government funds, 11.1% grown at home and 7.2% purchased by businesses.

Fifty years later, in 2000, 83.1% of food was purchased by families and individuals, and the amount grown at home totaled just 1.7%. Government purchases of food (including by recipients of food stamps) had ballooned to 5.6% of the total food market in 2000, with purchases by businesses accounting for 9.6%.

 The most recent numbers, for 2011, show government funds purchased 9.4% of U.S. food, compared with 79.1% purchases by families and individuals, 1.7% grown at home and 9.8% purchased by businesses.

No shocker here, but as self-dependence (grown at home) has sagged, U.S. dependence on government purchases of food has increased.