Natural Foods Merchandiser

Food prices: What to expect in 2012

In a persistently bad economy where the mere absence of bad news is seen as good news, food shoppers can expect slightly less pressure on their pocketbooks next year. Smaller price hikes are expected for food overall, but watch out for meats.

For most of 2011, the cost of food for U.S. shoppers was like a hike up a steep hill, with prices making steady increases month by month. The good news for consumers is that prices for food at checkout have leveled and declined slightly in recent months.

The Consumer Price Index for groceries fell by 0.1 percent in November, the first time since June 2010. Still, such food items are 5.9 percent more expensive than they were this time last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Seasonally adjusted prices are up 6.2 percent for cereals and bakery products, and up 8.7 percent for milk and dairy items.

Throw in the cost of eating out—which saw much more modest increases—and the government estimates that the price of all food will have gone up between 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent in 2011.

Grocery bills to see modest rise next year

The silver lining? While food prices are expected to continue an upward trend next year, the projected increase won’t be as bad: between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent in 2012. So, in a persistently bad economy where the mere absence of bad news is seen as good news, shoppers can expect slightly less pressure on their pocketbooks next year.

But not so much for meat eaters. Prices for beef and pork this year—because of drought, the high cost of feed and elevated demand—continue to soar. The U.S Department of Agriculture projects that meat prices will climb 6.5 to 7.5 percent in 2011. Analysts have said that consumers will likely face more high meat prices in 2012.

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