Although households used the most food-related energy, food processing had the largest growth in energy use between 1997 and 2002. Both households and foodservice establishments increasingly outsourced manual food preparation and cleanup to manufacturers. In 2002, food processors used 2.67 qBtu of energy, up from 1.79 qBtu in 1997.

Since the late 1990s, consumers have demanded more convenience foods that involve more processing and preparation services by a processor, services that would otherwise be done by households. “Single serving” and “quick” have ranked among the top 10 claims on new packaged food products since 2001.

Foodservice establishments also are looking for convenience and are purchasing ready-to-heat soups, entrees, and other foods that require more processing services by manufacturers. The number of food preparation jobs in the foodservice industry declined by about 16,000 between 1996 and 2000.

To accommodate the foodservice industry’s growing demand for processing services, the food manufacturing industry added only 4,800 new food preparation jobs but substantially increased energy consumption. Between 1997 and 2002, food processors’ energy use (direct and embodied) grew 49 percent, a larger increase than any other segment of the food system. This increase amounted to 2.7 million Btu per person, or roughly the heat energy equivalent of an additional 24 gallons of gasoline per person annually. As a result, the food processing industry surpassed the wholesale/retail industry, moving into second place behind households as the largest user of energy in the food system.