Grocery prices are continuing to rise—although more slowly. That bit of good news is likely to be little consultation to Americans who are continuing to see the prices of staples skyrocket.
- The price of a dozen grade A eggs rose 13.4% in a single month to $4.82
- Butter rose in price by 1.5%, to $4.88 per pound
- Ice cream rose by 4.5%, to $5.81 per half gallon
- Ham rose by 6.2%, to $4.30 per pound
- Lemons rose by 5.2%, to $2.19 per pound
- Frozen orange juice rose by 3.9%, to $2.82 for a 12 oz. can.
Overall, prices for food at home rose 0.4% in January over the previous month, down from a 0.5% rise in December, according to new government data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on Tuesday. The new data puts grocery prices up 11.3% since January 2022—a massive increase, though smaller than December’s year-over-year inflation figures.
Overall, inflation continued to cool slightly on an annual basis for a seventh straight month in January, dropping to 6.4% compared to a year earlier, bolstering hopes that inflation’s grip on the economy will continue to ease this year and the Federal Reserve can slow its interest rate hikes. The 6.4% inflation figure is a small step down from the 6.5% rate in December, but a more significant drop from last summer’s peak of 9.1%.
Inflation at the grocery store, however, remains a major pain point. Alana Auston, a 24-year-old senior strategic planner from Flint Township, Mich., says her family of three is now spending twice as much on groceries compared to last year. A look at her receipts shows that her family spends around $400 on larger trips to the local grocery store, where they buy fruits, vegetables, meats and frozen items, and around $100 on smaller, in-between trips.
“I have become a bit stressed and frustrated now that my household is bringing back 2008-era shopping tactics like meal planning to the T and dedicated couponing time to help offset costs,” she says.
The eye-popping price increase for eggs is largely attributed to the ongoing avian flu epidemic hitting chicken farms, with nearly 58 million birds infected—the deadliest such outbreak in U.S. history. “This is the largest animal emergency that [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] has ever faced in this country,” says Gino Lorenzoni, an assistant professor of poultry science and avian health at Penn State University. “And it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.”
But there is some good news: certain food items are actually getting cheaper. A gallon of whole milk, a pound of cheddar cheese, a pound of romaine lettuce and a pint of strawberries all cost slightly less in January than the previous month, suggesting that supply chain disruptions and unstable weather patterns are starting to ease.
And January’s figures continue to signal that the most severe inflation in four decades is gradually dissipating, says Mike Madowitz, director of macroeconomic policy at Equitable Growth, a non-profit research organization, and a former senior economist for the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.
“Clearly we’re not going to be done with inflation this month, but I don’t think anybody was thinking that,” he says. “A soft landing trajectory still makes sense, but maybe it’s more turbulent because there is more goods volatility than we were predicting a year ago.”
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said last week that the lengthy process of getting inflation down is probably “not going to be smooth” and confirmed that the Fed would likely raise interest rates more if consumer prices continued to increase.
The recent spike in grocery prices indicates that it could be a long and bumpy road back to normal, as inflation may have more staying power than financial markets have anticipated. “If you’re an economist, you are much more comfortable with the idea of a turbulent descent than you are with inflation not declining fast enough,” Madowitz says. “Because then inflation would be baked in.”
Investors flinched immediately after the government released its January inflation data as U.S. stocks moved back and forth in volatile trading. The S&P 500 was down 0.52% as of 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The continued rise in grocery prices has forced some households to make trade-offs and difficult decisions just to afford everyday pantry items. For many, the frustration is starting to boil over.
“It doesn’t make me feel the best that prices have increased this drastically,” Auston says. “I do wish that a concerted action to lower prices on everyday items was at least being planned at some level of government, or farm-to-table alternative programs would be planned locally. I hear ‘lower prices’ thrown around a lot right now but see little action.”
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