Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks in Wichita on behalf of "Axing the Taxes" proposal
Gov. Laura Kelly (center) appeared at a Wichita child care center on Wednesday to promote a proposal to eliminate Kansas food sales tax and sales tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products. A reduction in the state sales tax on food took effect Jan. 1. (Polly Wenzl/The Beacon)

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If you check your receipt from the grocery store, you may notice some food items are now being charged less sales tax. That statewide reduction in Kansas food sales tax of 2.5 percentage points took effect on Jan. 1. But what grocery items are actually eligible for the sales tax break is complicated and not at all obvious.

The Kansas Department of Revenue published a 26-page booklet with a flowchart and a “product matrix” to explain it. The guide is intended to help the retail food industry “avoid costly mistakes.” What classifies as food, as defined by the state, is based on who prepared it and whether it is served with utensils.

How much is the Kansas food sales tax?

The Kansas food sales tax has changed due to a change in state law adopted last year. Effective Jan. 1, Kansas will no longer charge the same sales tax on food as other items. With the new year, the Kansas food tax rate went from 6.5% to 4%. As a result, everyone is seeing the cut of 2.5 percentage points statewide.

Under the new law, the state rate will further decline to 2% on Jan. 1, 2024, and zero on Jan. 1, 2025. Gov. Laura Kelly would like it to go to zero sooner and will push the legislature to modify the new law when it reconvenes next week. 

She was in Wichita on Wednesday to promote her “Axing Your Taxes” proposal, which in addition to accelerating the elimination of state sales tax on food would eliminate sales tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products. The proposal also calls for an annual four-day state sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping each August. 

Kelly said she would not repeal sales tax on food and other items entirely, which would require the state prohibiting local jurisdictions from taxing those items. “I am a big believer in local control,” Kelly said. “In no way do I think the state of Kansas ought to impose that upon our local communities.” 

How much food sales tax will I pay here in Wichita?

In Wichita the most common sales tax rate is 7.5% – which represents the 6.5% assessed by Kansas and 1% assessed by Sedgwick County. Because the state lowered the sales tax on food from 6.5% to 4%, the food rate for most of Wichita is now 5%.

But certain areas of Wichita assess additional sales taxes through special levies intended to underwrite development, creating 19 different tax districts. For that reason, the sales tax rates at the Drury Plaza Broadview Hotel, the Riverfront baseball stadium and Chicken and Pickle charge 9.5% sales tax for nonfood items, and now 7% for food.

Download a spreadsheet with all local tax rates here. Look for “Publication 1700: All city, county and special jurisdiction tax rates.” 

Whether your groceries are subject to the full 6.5% Kansas sales tax rate or the reduced 4% rate depends on the state’s definition of foods. Groceries shown on the left are classified as food, while items on the right are classified as non-food or non-eligible prepared foods. (Polly Wenzl/The Beacon)

What is eligible for the reduced Kansas food sales tax rate?

Broadly, the state of Kansas classifies food as either food and food ingredients – typically considered grocery store items – and prepared food, typically considered restaurant items. But since many stores sell prepared food in various forms, it can get confusing.

For example, a pound of chicken from the freezer section is food. A hot rotisserie chicken from the deli is prepared food – and is charged the full sales tax rate. Get it cold instead, it’s charged the reduced rate.

Generally, prepared food is not eligible for the lower food sales tax rate, but don’t make any assumptions. The state’s product matrix includes more than a dozen “prepared food exceptions” for prepared foods that fall under the reduced food sales tax rate. The classification system can feel completely random: Olive oil and dietary supplements are considered food, but cat food is not food, nor gardening seeds.

Food subject to reduced sales taxItems subject to full tax
Nonalcoholic beer or wineAlcoholic beer or wine
Meal preparation kits sent to your homeMeal preparation kits sold at the store
Bottled soda, candies, bagged chips at the moviesFountain sodas, prepared nachos at the movies
Take-and-bake pizza without utensilsTake-and-bake pizza with utensils
Donuts without utensilsDonuts with utensils
Cold ready-to-eat chickenHot rotisserie chicken
Packaged sandwich or lunchableSandwich sold at deli
Bananas, apples, fresh produceCut fruit and veggie trays
Dietary supplements and vitaminsPain relievers and antacids
Pumpkin seeds packaged to eatSeeds for the garden

How do stores know how much sales tax to charge for each item?

Every store that sells both qualifying and nonqualifying food items needs to have a point-of-sale system programmed to account for the differences and assess sales tax rates accordingly. The Wichita Beacon contacted both Dillons and Walmart corporate offices for comment about this process and potential for error but received no response from either.

According to Cassie Nichols, Kelly’s press secretary, the classification is driven by the state’s participation in a multistate compact intended to standardize sales taxes, making the process easier on businesses. Kansas is one of 23 fully participating states, which include neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma but not Missouri or Colorado.

How can I know if the taxes are being assessed correctly?

It’s hard to be certain.

  • You need to know how the state classifies what you are buying.
  • You need to know what taxing district the store is located in to know what the rates should be.
  • And you need to be prepared to check your receipts and do some math.

In at least one instance shared on social media, a Wichita Walmart Supercenter store at 53rd and Meridian erred on Jan. 1 by applying both tax rates to all items purchased – a total levy of 12.5% – making one Wichita man’s grocery bill about $27 higher than it should have been.

Shawn Lawrence of Wichita realized he was being charged both food and nonfood tax rates on all items because the amount of sales tax represented 12.5% of his total bill – 7.5% plus 5%. Lawrence shared a picture of his receipt from a Walmart Supercenter that showed he was assessed both taxes.

Lawrence told The Beacon he wouldn’t expect most people to check the math on the receipt. “I wouldn’t have except when I got home my son-in-law said they changed the rates.” Because Lawrence owns a business that collects sales tax, he said he has a sense of what it should be, and his receipt seemed off. “The rate was too high for the total,” Lawrence told The Beacon.

So he drove back to Walmart. “The manager offered me a gift card. I was like, ‘That’s fine, but what about all the other people checking out right now?’” Lawrence received a gift card for $30 in return, he told The Beacon.

A Beacon reporter visited the same Walmart at 53rd and Meridian on Jan. 3 to see if the glitch had been corrected, purchasing an assortment of food and nonfood items; the receipt indicated food and nonfood items were appropriately assessed at different tax rates.

However, the store made one apparent error, classifying a $4.88 bottle of melatonin tablets as nonfood. According to the product matrix in the state’s 26-page booklet, any item labeled a nutritional supplement is considered food. The classification error added 12 cents to The Beacon reporter’s grocery bill.

What should I do if I think I am being charged incorrectly?

If the math on your receipt doesn’t add up, the simplest thing may be complaining to a store manager, as Lawrence did. If that doesn’t work, “obviously our department of revenue checks on these kinds of things so if someone files a complaint we will look at it,” Kelly said. The Kansas Department of Revenue has a Taxpayer Assistance Center. 

There are offices in Wichita, Topeka and Overland Park you can visit by appointment. You may also call or email the center. In Wichita, the number is 316-337-6167. Statewide, the email is kdor_tac@ks.gov.

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Polly Basore WenzlEditor

Polly Basore Wenzl is the editor of The Wichita Beacon. Follow her on Twitter at @PollyBWenzl.