Brenda Jones-Nierman doesn’t need data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to know food prices have increased in the last 12 months. She can tell by looking at grocery receipts.
“Sometimes I find an old receipt and I’ll look back and say, 'Oh my gosh,'” Jones-Nierman said. “The regular things that you buy, you just notice that they are going up in price.”
According to numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices have risen 1.7 percent in the last 12 months. Food purchased at grocery stores and made at home increased 1.4 percent, while food purchased from a restaurant increased 2.3 percent.
The numbers are not a surprise to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
“There’s some big trends at work here, and we’re seeing it in our own study of food prices,” said Casey Langan, spokesperson for the WFBF. “We’re seeing big movement in items like meat, milk and eggs. Overall food prices have been pretty stagnant the last couple of years, but it is in these protein areas where there is such strong demand that we’re seeing upward pressure on the price.”
Langan said there is no one factor causing the increases. He said the lingering impact of a multiyear drought is causing beef prices to increase. He said the number of beef cattle in this country right now is at a 60-year low.
The rise in egg prices is a result of increased demand by foreign markets, especially Mexico. That demand is driving the price up.
By the time a product arrives in grocery stores, a variety of outside influences have impacted the price.
“There are lots of factors that enter into price increases,” said Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association. “When the product ends up at the grocery store it has been through a long trip from the field to the fork, as they say. From the field to the store, grocers have to account for, in their pricing, transportation costs, the costs of goods from the manufacturer or the grower or the producer.”
Scholz said grocery stores operate on very thin profit margins and rely on return shoppers and volume of sales to survive.
“If a price increase is going to chase a customer away, you bet it scares grocers. That’s why they work to keep those groceries as affordable as possible,” Scholz said.
The USDA has released food price projections for 2014, and beef and eggs are again forecast to see above-average increases. Those two commodities are projected to increase between 3 and 4 percent in 2014. Most other commodities are projected to increase between 2.5 and 3.5 percent.