Extension Ag Update
December 2008
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Research

“U.S. Food Market Size Estimator” at new tool to estimate markets
Rich Pirog, Leopold Center, Iowa State University, (515) 294-1854, rspirog@iastate.edu
While large food companies turn to focus groups, regional product testing and consumer surveys to explore future markets, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has developed a simple on-line tool to help farmers, agricultural organizations, public agencies and local food and economic development groups get a "first look" at potential markets.

The new tool, called the U.S. Food Market Size Estimator, is available at: www.ctre.iastate.edu/marketsize. Users can find the approximate demand for 204 food products in every county of the United States. Products include milk, cheese and dairy foods; fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables; grains; and meat, fish and nuts.

"This is a simple tool with many uses," said Rich Pirog, associate director of the Leopold Center who worked with the Center for Transportation Research and Education at Iowa State University to develop the tool. "We think it will be used by producer networks to understand potential markets, by economic development groups to make a compelling case for local food systems, and to inform policy as it relates to increasing the capacity of local and regional food efforts."

The tool does not show actual consumption, nor does it account for seasonal or geographic differences in market demand for various foods. Instead, the tool uses information from the USDA Economic Research Service's Food Availability Data System, an annual estimate of the amounts of 204 food products available at a per capita rate in the United States. This per capita rate is combined with the 2007 county population estimates (from the U.S. Census) to determine a potential market for each food product at the county level.

Pirog said the tool might be used by farmers and other direct-market food producers to identify approximate market size in nearby counties or states when they make decisions about marketing, capacity and potential expansion. Government agencies and researchers might find the tool helpful in determining approximate food market size and impact of food production/processing on roads and other infrastructure, or for assessing economic impacts related to changes in food availability, diet and marketing. Possible scenarios might include selecting local purchasing targets for schools, retail, foodservice or other food markets at the county, state or national levels.

Pirog advised users to read the instructions and view a demonstration before using the tool. The project is part of the Leopold Center's Marketing and Food System Initiative, one of three program areas of the Center.