Retail food price inflation rate likely to decrease in 2021

This line chart shows changes in prices for food at home for the years 2001 to 2021.

Food prices increased more rapidly than average in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted shifts in consumption patterns and supply chain disruptions. However, researchers at the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) expect food price inflation to retreat over the course of 2021 and converge closer to the 20-year historical average. During the pandemic, supply chains pivoted from servicing restaurants to stocking retailers, primarily grocery stores. COVID-19 outbreaks disrupted agricultural production and processing, particularly in the meat sector, leading to reduced supply and higher prices. Societal and economic response to the pandemic will continue to influence food prices in 2021, and uncertainties about the future of disease transmission, stay-at-home orders, and vaccinations introduce challenges to forecasting food price inflation. Restaurant re-openings, supply chain adjustments, rates of unemployment, and shifting safety net programs may all affect food prices. Over time, inflation tends to revert to historical averages as years of high rates of inflation are often succeeded by years of low inflation. The years following the 2008 and 2011 price spikes offer examples of this pattern. This trend suggests food price inflation rates are likely to decrease in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is substantial uncertainty about the rate of decline. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, ERS researchers project retail food prices will increase between 1 and 2 percent in 2021, at or below the 20-year average of 2 percent. More information on ERS’s monthly food price forecasts can be found in the ERS Food Price Outlook data product, which will be updated February 25, 2021.

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