Rising Food Prices Give Shoppers Indigestion

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Butcher reaching for chops, low angle view
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This is prime barbecue season, and most of the main ingredients for a backyard banquet are soaring in price. Beef, ribs and chicken -- as well as the lettuce, tomato and other secondary goodies that make the meal -- all cost a lot more than they did last summer. And don't forget dessert. Prices for that wonderful fruit salad and the Hershey (HSY) bars for s'mores are going up, too.

Blame Mother Nature for a lot of those price hikes. Droughts continue to worsen in many prime growing areas in the U.S. An unusual pig virus has pork prices sizzling, and of course, good old supply and demand is always a factor.

When you visit the grocery, you'll find the biggest price hikes along the periphery of the store -- the fruit and veggies along one of the far walls, dairy products at the other end and the meats along the back wall.

Statistics Back Up Rising Costs You've Been Seeing

The government reported Tuesday that the Consumer Price Index rose in June by 0.3 percent, and food costs edged up by just 0.1 percent, after a 0.5 percent increase in May. There's always the disclaimer that food and energy prices are volatile, and you shouldn't look at just one month's data. So we'll look at the longer trend.

While prices are spiking in some areas of the supermarket, the overall increases are in line with historical norms. The Agriculture Department expects food prices to increase in the 2½ percent to 3½ percent range this year, not far from the 20-year average of 2.8 percent per year.

But there are some trends down on the farm that make it tough for supermarket shoppers.

Smallest Number of Cattle Since '51

The first has to do with the extensive and long-lasting drought that has ravaged California and big sections of the Midwest. Farmers have had to significantly reduce the size of their herds as the drought raised the cost of animal feed and put severe stress on livestock. These problems are now in their third year, so herds are thinning out, and the impact is beginning to pile up.

The Agriculture Department says herd sizes are the smallest they've been since 1951. And because of the long incubation period for cattle and the time it takes to fatten them up, beef prices aren't likely to come down any time soon.

"It's too early to tell the extent of the problem or how long it will last," Agriculture Department economist Annemarie Kuhns said. "There's still too much uncertainty."

The Agriculture Department expects meat prices overall to increase by about 5½ percent this year. Beef and veal will be a little bit more than that, while pork will be a little bit less.

Droughts Wallop California, Southwest, Great Plains

Fresh fruits and eggs are also expected to increase in the 5 percent to 6 percent range. Fruits and veggies are mainly effected by the weather. The drought in California, the Southwest and the Great Plains is now in its third year, with no signs of letting up.

California growers account for about half of the nation's fruits and veggies, but water is so scarce that some farmers have decided not to plant all or part of their crops this year. In addition, Florida orange growers have suffered from a withering disease that has cut the size of this year's harvest -- and the size of the fruit itself.

Consumer experts say shoppers don't have as many options to substitute an alternative food (pork for beef, for example) for one that's rising in price. But there are some tactics to trim the grocery bill.

Maura White, a frugal living expert from Rochester, New York, suggests using cheaper cuts of meat and making friends with the store butcher. White, who runs the Happy Deal, Happy Day website, says smart shoppers should "ask the butcher about sale prices, usually mid-week or late in the day."

As for fruits and veggies, White urges consumers to take advantage of farmers' markets and locally grown produce. She's also a big advocate of coupons and shopper apps. Among her favorites, in addition to her own site, are: i-bought-it.com, checkout51.com and the price comparison app Favado.


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21 Comments

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YourFtr

Beef is up because the Obama regime is selling the open range to the red Chinese and then using the BLM to kick cattlemen and their cattle off of the land.....
Perhaps O will make a few more 'national parks' and then that land can be sold to the red Chinese ; also........!!??

July 28 2014 at 12:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ron

Thanks for NOTHING Obama! Gas is OVER 100% higher since he won and we lost! Inflation is through the roof as a result too! Thanks to you idiots who voted fot him too!!!
Google: Gas Price, Dec 2008, CNN to see that gas WAS $1.65!!!

July 27 2014 at 8:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jerry

WE HAVE HAD INDIEGEST FOR MONTHS NOW AS FOOD PRICES HAVE BEEN GOING UP FOR THE LAST 1.5 YEARS, WHY IS EVERYONE UP SET NOW??????????????????

July 27 2014 at 6:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Andrea

and yet we are led to believe there is no inflation ! ! !

July 27 2014 at 2:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
okiemule

Not only are the prices you are paying increasing but if you notice he quantities in canned foods are getting less and less, which increases the unit cost even more.
As an example coffee used to come in 16oz. cans. Now they are in 10.5 oz comtainers and vegetables used to be in 16 oz. cans now they are about 12oz containers.

July 27 2014 at 11:18 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Torpecker

At the rate food prices are rising, we in "the 99%" may end up eating various food substitutes. That is if THEY allow us to eat anything at all. Many regimes throughout history have purposely starved their minions without any compunction. Starvation is a powerful weapon in the hands of despots. Two food substitutes which very soon might make their way to your dining room table are: Soylent Green and Nutriloaf. Bon appetit!

July 27 2014 at 10:52 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
stevebakerguitar

IT'S THE GDP....... THE VALUE OF THE DOLLAR ID DEAD..... YOU CAN THANK THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT FOR LESS MONEY IN YOUR POCKET.

July 27 2014 at 10:30 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Paul

Corn prices are up due to the drought, demand from cattle farmers, and ETHANOL PRODUCERS !!!!!!! Ethanol is NOT a green energy. It takes MORE FUEL(pollution) to make it than you get out. Ethanol mixed gas gives you LOWER FUEL MILEAGE. Pure gas is ACTUALLY less polluting. The only thing good about Ethanol is someone is making big money.

July 27 2014 at 10:03 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Paul's comment
lorepod

Corn today averages about $3.50 a bushel. Corn was $3.50 a bushel back in 1974. In 2012 it was over $8.00 a bushel. It takes a lot of energy to produce a bushel of corn. In the Midwest, gas without ethanol averages about 30 cents a gallon more if you can find it. Don't know where the break point is.

July 27 2014 at 6:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

We've got greater crop yields now than in all history. We're up to 200 bushels of corn to the acre and expect to see 300 by 2020.
What's really happening is most of the industrial jobs and solid industrial incomes are in China
and beef cattle, citrus, cereal grains, etc. are being loaded onto cargo ships and delivered to China. If you have a million bushels of corn, and you get 10 cents a bushel more at the docks, it's going to the docks, trust me.

July 27 2014 at 9:13 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Glen

With the shrinking herd size could we see more "Engineered" meat products on the shelves?

July 27 2014 at 8:45 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply