Spikes in meat prices, but not overall food prices

While meat prices have jumped in recent months, other foods have keep prices from rising more than normal. (Photo by Clay Masters for Harvest Public Media)
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July 30, 2014 - 3:00pm

Food prices are up, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture isn’t forecasting a drastic surge. In spite of price spikes in the meat aisle, grocery prices are not rising any faster than they have historically.


Pork prices are up 12 percent from a year ago as the industry deals with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus, an illness that has killed millions of piglets nationwide. Beef prices are up 10 percent as drought continues to hammer beef states like Texas and Oklahoma.

“The (beef) herds are the size they were in 1951,” said USDA economist Annemarie Kuhns. “With limited supply the prices have increased.”

The jump in meat prices may give the false impression that food costs are going up across the board. But the latest report from the USDA shows that’s not the case. Storewide, prices are only up about 2 percent over the last year.

Kuhns says whether or not you’re noticing price hikes at the supermarket depends a lot on which part of the store you do the most shopping.

“If you’re a person who shops more at the periphery of the store – your meats, dairy, cheese and eggs – then you will be seeing higher than average inflation,” Kuhns said. “But if you’re a person who gets a mix of items along with your center aisle then maybe you’ll be seeing more like that 2.5 to 3 percent level.”

The center aisles usually contain more processed foods, cereals, bread, snacks and sweets. Big corn and soybean crops last year, and similar levels predicted for this fall, have helped hold down prices for those processed items, Kuhns said.

When it comes to forecasting where food prices will head in the next 6-12 months, the big variable is the drought continuing to threaten California farmers. It’s the salad bowl of America. While some studies have predicted big jumps in fruit and vegetable prices, that hasn’t happened – at least not yet.

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