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WIC Food Cost-Containment Practices Study

Resource type
Research type
Benefit Content/Cost
Cost Study
Food/Nutrient Analysis
Participation Characteristics
Policy Analysis
Program Access
Promoting Healthy Eating
Resource Materials
PDF Icon Summary (513.36 KB)
PDF Icon Final Report (3.89 MB)
PDF Icon Appendices (9.43 MB)

The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) through federal grants to 89 state agencies. WIC provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, and healthcare referrals to nutritionally at-risk, low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and infants and children up to age 5. WIC state agencies provide services through local agencies and clinics.

Federal regulations designate the types and amounts of foods that can be prescribed to meet each participant’s nutritional needs. Food costs accounted for $3.1 billion, or about 61 percent of the WIC program’s total costs, in 2019. State agencies are responsible for implementing cost-containment practices to ensure WIC foods are reimbursed at competitive prices while maintaining federal nutrition standards and quantities. Some of these practices are federally mandated, while others are voluntary. These practices are intended to keep food costs down and ensure WIC food grants are used efficiently.

This study sought to understand the approaches state agencies use to reduce food costs when selecting and authorizing WIC foods and the relative effectiveness of these approaches. The study examined how 6 types of state agency food cost-containment practices are associated with food costs and WIC participant outcomes (i.e., participant satisfaction, benefit redemption and food consumption) in 12 state agencies. The 6 types of food cost-containment practices included: least expensive brand restrictions, store brand only restrictions, manufacturer rebates for supplemental foods other than infant formula, container size restrictions, form or type restrictions and food alternative restrictions.

Key findings:
  • All 70 WIC state agencies surveyed used at least one container size restriction for cost containment purposes and at least one form or type restriction on their WIC-approved foods.
  • Seventeen of the 29 food cost-containment practices examined were associated with estimated average cost savings of between $0.02 and $0.61 per participant per month.
  • Some food cost-containment practices did not reduce estimated food costs and/or were associated with lower participant satisfaction, benefit redemption, or consumption of prescribed foods.
  • More than 90 percent of participant respondents were satisfied with foods purchased with WIC. No brand or container size-related food cost-containment practices were associated with brand or container size satisfaction with WIC foods.
Page updated: November 09, 2022