Why are food prices so high?

Groceries shopping at Lidl, checkout cashier counter belt full of groceries at supermarket. Shopping with social distancing measures in stores. SWANSEA, UK - MARCH 31, 2021
salarko / Shutterstock

When the economy started to revive, demand surged for a bevy of consumer goods and services, which — combined with recent supply chain disruptions — is contributing to higher costs for everything from breakfast bars to used cars.

Food prices have risen faster since the beginning of the pandemic than they did over the prior decade, thanks to wage increases in the food sector, transportation bottlenecks and increased agricultural commodity prices, Jayson Lusk, a Purdue University agricultural economics professor writes in EconoFact.

Consumer prices were up 6.2% in October over the same month last year, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prices for food consumed at home were up 5.4% over the past year.

All major grocery store food groups rose in cost, with some items showing double-digit annual increases, the bureau reported this month.

  • Meats, poultry, fish and eggs — up 11.9%
  • Beef — up 20.1%
  • Pork — up 14.1%
  • Dairy — up 1.8%
  • Nonalcoholic beverages — up 4.5%
  • Cereals and bakery products — up 3.5%
  • Fruits and vegetables — up 3%

If you're cooking for Thanksgiving, your turkey (or turkey-free) dinner will likely be more expensive than it was last year. The average Thanksgiving meal is expected to cost 14% more than in 2020, according to a new survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Higher food bills are an especially hard hit for people still out of work or behind on their bills and accumulating debt because of the pandemic. Food banks and other programs have seen increased demand for food assistance this year. And last year, 1 out of 5 people turned to the charitable food sector for help, according to hunger-relief organization Feeding America.

Tricks to save at the supermarket

Sydney, Australia 2021-07-21 Teenage girl man wearing mask surveying grocery aisle at Coles supermarket during COVID-19 Delta outbreak lockdown.
Daria Nipot / Shutterstock

With days until Thanksgiving, Andrea Woroch, who writes about budgeting and cost-saving advice in the media and on her website, says there are plenty of ways to save at the store this holiday season — and beyond:

  1. Look for a turkey deal. Some grocers offer free or low-cost turkeys with purchases, so your sides and desserts could pay for the main course.
  2. Shop with a list. Writing down exactly what you need can help prevent impulse purchases.
  3. Opt for frozen produce. There are certain fruits and vegetables you’ll want to buy fresh, but for quiches, cheesecakes and other desserts, the cheaper frozen product can be just as good.
  4. Stick with store brands. Buy less expensive in-house brands for staples like flour, sugar and spices.
  5. Check the unit price. Don’t assume that a bigger package means a better deal. Some smaller containers can be cheaper if they’re on sale.
  6. Don’t buy everything at the grocery store. If you have the time, you can find better deals on foil, plastic wrap and other kitchen essentials at big-box stores.

Other ideas to save this holiday season

Man hand is putting money in the pocket.
Johnstocker Production / Shutterstock

Until supply chain bottlenecks begin to clear and inflation cools off, consider other ways to lower your costs.

  • Stretch your dollars. Do you know if you’re getting the best deals when you shop online? Whether it’s a subscription service or a new, cheaper phone, a free browser add-on automatically scours the internet for better prices and coupons.

  • Decrease your debt. Are you carrying a lot of student loan debt? The government's pause on payments is ending soon, so it's a good time to give some thought to the best way to quickly pay off your student loan. A refinance can lower your interest rate and possibly shave years off your payments.

  • Cut your insurance costs. If you haven’t shopped for car insurance lately, you might be paying too much. Do some comparison shopping to slash your auto insurance premiums. The same is true for finding a cheaper rate on homeowners insurance.

  • Use your pennies wisely. Even if you don’t have a lot of cash to spare, it can be surprisingly easy to squeeze some income out of the stock market. A popular app lets you invest just your "spare change" from everyday purchases.

About the Author

Nancy Sarnoff

Nancy Sarnoff

Freelance Contributor

Nancy Sarnoff is a freelance contributor with MoneyWise. Previously, she covered commercial and residential real estate for the Houston Chronicle where she also hosted Looped In, a podcast about the region’s growth, development and economy. Her work has been recognized by the National Association of Real Estate Editors and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

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