Although the foodservice industry outsourced much of its food preparation services between 1997 and 2002, industry energy use increased 47 percent—the heat energy equivalent of roughly 16 gallons of gasoline per person. The proliferation of coffee shops and eating places—with buildings to construct or renovate, equipment to manufacture, new kitchens to run, and buildings to light, heat, and cool—has added to energy use by the food system. In 2002, 479,000 food and beverage service establishments operated in the United States, up 7 percent from 1997. By 2008, this number increased to 546,000.

At other points along the U.S. food supply chain, changes in energy use were more moderate. The share of total food-related direct and embodied energy use by agriculture rose to 14.4 percent in 2002, up slightly from 14.0 percent in 1997. Agriculture ranked fourth among the seven food system industry groups in increased food-related energy use over the 5-year period.

Packaging and freight services are energy intensive but still use considerably less energy than other food system industries. Energy use by packaging and freight service firms over the 5 years increased 22 and 24 percent, respectively. The trend toward fewer and larger farms and processing plants led to greater use of freight services and substantial increases in the average distance per domestic shipment of all foods between 1997 and 2002. Longer average shipping distances translate to more transportation fuel per unit of food.

In contrast to all the other food-related industries, energy use by wholesalers and retailers declined over the period. Foodservice industry growth may have cut into the demand for retail services. At the same time, rapid consolidation of grocery store chains in 1997-2002, resulting in fewer stores with larger square footage of retail space, coupled with more energy-efficient lighting, heating, and cooling equipment, also may have contributed to declining energy use by food retailers.