The Impact of a City-Level Minimum Wage Policy on Supermarket Food Prices by Food Quality Metrics: A Two-Year Follow Up Study

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Jan 1;16(1):102. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16010102.


Objective: To examine the effects of increasing minimum wage on supermarket food prices in Seattle over 2 years of policy implementation, overall and differentially across food quality metrics. Methods: Prices for the UW Center for Public Health Nutrition (CPHN) market basket of 106 foods were obtained for 6 large supermarket chain stores in Seattle ("intervention") and for the same chain stores in King County ("control") at four time points: 1-month pre- (March 2015), 1-month post- (May 2015), 1-year post- (May 2016), and 2-years post-policy implementation (May 2017). Prices for all food items were standardized and converted to price per 100 kcal. Food quality metrics were used to explore potential differential price increases by (a) food groups, as defined by US Department of Agriculture; (b) NOVA food processing categories, and (c) nutrient density quartiles, based on the Nutrient Rich Foods Index 9.3. Separate difference-in-differences linear regression models with robust standard errors, examined price differences per 100 kcal overall, clustered by store chain, and stratified by each food quality metric. Results: There were no overall market basket price changes attributable to Seattle's minimum wage policy. Moreover, no minimum wage effect was detected by USDA food group, food processing, or nutrient density categories. Conclusions: Local area supermarket food prices were not impacted by Seattle's minimum wage policy 2 years into policy implementation and after the first increase to $15/h overall or by sub-classification. Low-income workers may be able to afford higher quality diets if wages increase yet supermarket prices stay the same.

Keywords: food cost; food price; market basket; minimum wage; supermarkets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cities / statistics & numerical data
  • Commerce / economics*
  • Commerce / statistics & numerical data
  • Costs and Cost Analysis / economics*
  • Costs and Cost Analysis / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Food Quality*
  • Food Supply / economics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty / economics*
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits / economics*
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits / statistics & numerical data
  • Washington