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Food prices less volatile than transportation prices

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The 1970s were a decade of volatile prices for consumers’ top three spending categories—housing, transportation, and food. Annual food price inflation during the 1970s averaged 8.1 percent, and food prices rose by 10 percent or more in 3 of the 10 years. Yearly price changes for housing costs, which include rents, utilities, and household furnishings, averaged 7.6 percent during the decade and peaked at 15.7 percent in 1980. And price changes for transportation (prices of vehicles, gasoline and diesel fuel, and public transportation) topped 10 percent in 1974, 1976, and 1979 and jumped 17.9 percent in 1980. Since that time, prices for food and housing have become comparatively more stable than transportation prices, which continue to be volatile from year to year. Food prices in 2016 and 2017 changed little as decreasing prices for food commodities and energy offset rising costs for other food processing, marketing, and food service inputs. At the same time, a strong U.S. dollar lowered the cost of imported foods. This chart appears in “Five Decades of Price Swings for Food and Other Consumer Spending Categories” in the July 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Home-grilled cheeseburger costs are beefier today than they were 20 years ago

Monday, July 2, 2018

If cheeseburgers are on your menu for July 4, they will cost you 20 percent more than their inflation-adjusted cost from 20 years ago. And that greater cost is due to higher ground beef prices. In 2018, the ingredients for a home-prepared, quarter-pound cheeseburger total $1.69, with ground beef making up the largest cost at $0.92. This same cheeseburger would have cost $0.91 to prepare in 1998, the equivalent of $1.40 in 2018 dollars, with ground beef accounting for $0.55 in 2018 dollars. Today’s higher ground beef prices in grocery stores likely reflect cattle supply disruptions in the early 2000s and early 2010s, resulting in higher-than-average increases in retail ground beef prices during those years. Although U.S. beef production has since increased, prices are slower to retreat at the retail level. In contrast, efficiencies throughout the food supply chain helped lower prices for the other cheeseburger ingredients. Inflation-adjusted retail bread prices between 1998 and 2018 fell by 2.8 percent, tomato prices by 12.3 percent, lettuce prices by 27.9 percent, and cheddar cheese prices by 5.7 percent. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated June 25, 2018.

Recent food price inflation in line with overall inflation

Thursday, May 17, 2018

From 2013 to 2017, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food (grocery store and restaurant food) rose by 5.5 percent. This increase was relatively in line with the 5.2-percent rise in the all-items CPI, indicating that food prices were rising only moderately faster than prices for consumer goods and services as a whole. Over the last couple years, rising restaurant prices have contributed to food price inflation outpacing prices for recreation, education and communication, apparel, and transportation. Apparel and transportation prices actually declined from 2013 to 2017. Medical care and housing were the only two major consumer spending categories whose prices rose faster than food prices during this time period. Food-price inflation outpacing economy-wide inflation is not a recent phenomenon. Over the last decade, food-price inflation averaged 2.1 percent per year and overall inflation averaged 1.7 percent per year. Price inflation for food at home, however, averaged 1.8 percent per year during 2013-17, in line with economy-wide inflation. This chart appears in ERS’s data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Retail price changes for most food categories were small in 2017

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

With the exception of eggs, 2017 was a year of relative stability for grocery store prices. Lower agricultural commodity prices and a relatively strong U.S. dollar (which can make imported foods less expensive) contributed to smaller than average price increases and, for some foods, price decreases. The largest increase was for fish and seafood prices, which rose 1.2 percent—still well below the category’s 20-year historical average of 2.5 percent per year. Beef and veal prices fell 1.2 percent, cereals and bakery products were down 0.5 percent, and retail prices for sugars and sweets and fresh vegetables both fell by 0.1 percent in 2017. The food category with the largest price change in 2017 was eggs—a category prone to yearly price swings. Retail egg prices fell 9.5 percent in 2017, as egg production continued to recover from lows in 2015 due to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. Eggs account for 1.3 percent of food-at-home spending, so their large price swings have muted effects on overall grocery store inflation. This chart appears in an ERS data visualization, Food Price Environment: Interactive Visualization, released February 2018.

Grocery store food prices fell 0.2 percent in 2017

Thursday, February 22, 2018

2017 marked the second consecutive year that average grocery store prices declined. At-home food prices in 2017 were 0.2 percent lower than 2016 prices. This decline followed a larger 1.3-percent drop in 2016—the first decline in annual grocery store prices since 1967. In contrast to falling food prices, overall inflation (prices for all goods and services, including food) rose by 1.3 percent in 2016 and by 2.1 percent in 2017. During 2016-17, lower food-at-home prices were driven, in part, by increased U.S. production of agricultural commodities, such as beef cattle and eggs, lower transportation costs due to lower oil prices, and a strong U.S. dollar which can make imported foods less expensive. Grocery store price changes can be volatile year to year, however the 20-year moving average, or average price change for the previous 20 years, has been slowly declining from 4 percent in 1998 to 3.1 percent in 2008 to 2.1 percent in 2017. More information on ERS's food price forecasts can be found in ERS's Food Price Outlook data product, updated February 22, 2018.

Food is the third largest spending category for American households at 12.6 percent

Monday, December 11, 2017

The average American household spent a slightly larger percentage of its income on total food—grocery and restaurant purchases—in 2016 than in 2015. The increase from 12.5 percent of expenditures in 2015 to 12.6 percent in 2016, possibly reflects 2016’s 0.3-percent rise in total food prices, combined with the 2.1-percent decline in transportation costs. With a 12.6 percent share, food ranked third behind housing (33 percent) and transportation (15.8 percent) in a typical American household’s 2016 expenditures. Breaking down food spending further, 7.1 percent of expenditures were spent at the grocery store and 5.5 percent at restaurants. Looking at expenditure shares over time, food’s share has steadily declined since 1984 (the first year of available data), when food expenditures accounted for 15 percent of consumer spending. As the share for food has declined, the shares of income spent on housing, health care, and entertainment have increased from 1984. This chart is one of the 34 charts and maps that can be found in the ERS publication, Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, October 2017.

Bringing pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving dinner? A homemade one will cost you $4.12 this year

Monday, November 20, 2017

Errata: On November 20, 2017, the text was corrected to reflect that butter, sugar, and pie pumpkins were more expensive in September 2017 compared to September 2016, and flour and egg prices were lower.


As the fourth Thursday in November approaches, some shoppers may wonder how food price inflation will affect the cost of their favorite dishes, including pumpkin pie. In fact, for many Americans, it might be hard to imagine a Thanksgiving feast without it. In September 2017, the ingredients for a pumpkin pie totaled $4.12, with pumpkin making up 65 percent of that cost and butter accounting for 15 percent. This same pie would have cost $3.24 to bake in September 2016. Flour and egg prices were lower in September 2017 compared to September 2016, while milk prices remained relatively flat. Butter, sugar, and pie pumpkins—smaller, rounder, and denser than carving pumpkins—were all more expensive in September 2017 compared to a year earlier. Additional savings could be found this November, as retail stores often offer specials on holiday baking staples. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated October 25, 2017.

A perk with today’s home-brewed coffee—it costs less than 30 years ago

Monday, September 25, 2017

Friday, September 29 is National Coffee Day, and according to a National Coffee Association survey, 62 percent of adult Americans are coffee drinkers—either brewed at home or purchased on the go or as part of a restaurant meal. For those waking up to the aroma of home-brewed coffee, they can also enjoy the fact that their cup of morning coffee costs less today than it did 30 years ago, when adjusted for inflation. In 2017, a 12-ounce cup of coffee costs, on average, 19.1 cents to brew at home. That same cup of coffee cost 12.2 cents in 1987. But when adjusted for inflation, that 12.2 cents is equivalent to 26.3 cents in 2017 dollars. For those who prefer their daily joe with milk and sugar, that adds 3.1 cents in 2017 compared with 4.5 cents in 1987 in 2017 dollars. Thus, the cost of a home-prepared cup of coffee has declined by just over a fourth over the past three decades. So, sit back and enjoy a second cup this Friday. More information on ERS’s food price data can be found in the Food Price Outlook data product, updated September 25, 2017.

Inflation in grocery store food prices varies across U.S. metropolitan areas

Friday, September 1, 2017

Increasing prices (inflation) for food sold in supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers differ by U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). For example, from 2007 to 2016, retail food prices rose 26.4 percent in Pittsburgh but only 12.8 percent in Anchorage. Several factors account for variations in food price inflation across MSAs. Changes to the costs associated with transporting food products to the grocery store can vary geographically, and volatile fuel prices can contribute to variation in retail food price inflation across MSAs. Fluctuations in retail overhead costs, such as labor and rent, may also differ from one area to another. Increases in retail overhead costs are often passed onto consumers as higher prices. However, in MSAs with falling consumer incomes, grocers may not be able to pass on price increases to budget-constrained consumers, dampening food price inflation. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Food Price Outlook, updated July 25, 2017.

Changes in farm commodity prices have a muted effect on grocery store and restaurant prices

Friday, July 21, 2017

Favorable weather conditions as well as droughts and floods can lead to changes in production levels of farm commodities and, in turn, swings in their prices. Volatility in farm commodity prices—measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) for Farm Products—and in intermediate foods—measured by the PPI for Processed Foodstuff and Feedstuff—is often greater than price volatility in grocery stores and restaurants. Intermediate foods, such as vegetable oils and refined sugar, are used to produce final foods like cookies and bread. Prices at each stage generally move in the same direction, but the magnitude of the price changes varies. For instance, in 2016 the Farm Products PPI declined by 9.7 percent, the Processed Foodstuff and Feedstuff PPI fell by 2.7 percent, while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for All Food (foods purchased in stores and eating places) rose, slightly, by 0.3 percent. Price fluctuations for intermediate foods and final foods are muted relative to that of farm products, since foods at later stages of production include less volatile costs for processing, transportation, packaging, and other wholesale and retail overhead costs. According to ERS’s Food Dollar Series, farm and agribusiness costs only represented 10.8 cents of every dollar spent on domestically-produced food in 2015. This chart is from ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated July 3, 2017.

Food price inflation continues to outpace overall inflation

Monday, June 5, 2017

From 2012 to 2016, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food (grocery store and restaurant food) rose by 6.1 percent—a larger increase than the 4.5-percent rise in the all-items CPI. When the CPI for a specific category, such as food, rises faster than the all-items CPI, it indicates that prices for the category are rising faster than prices for consumer goods and services as a whole. Livestock and crop diseases, major weather events, and shocks to global food markets have caused price inflation for food to outpace many other consumer spending categories. Only prices for medical care and housing rose faster than food prices during 2012-16. Food prices experienced larger increases than prices for recreation and education and communication, and apparel and transportation prices fell over 2012 to 2016. The 10.3-percent decline in transportation prices—a result of falling gasoline prices in 2015 and 2016—helped hold down economy-wide inflation. Food-price inflation outpacing economy-wide inflation is not a recent phenomenon. Over the last decade, food-price inflation averaged 2.4 percent per year and overall inflation averaged 1.8 percent per year. This chart appears in ERS’s data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Retail food prices in 2016 declined for the first time in nearly 50 years

Monday, March 27, 2017

In 2016, retail food prices decreased by 1.3 percent—the first time since 1967 that grocery store (food-at-home) prices were lower than those in the year before. Over the last 50 years, food-at-home prices have, on average, risen 4 percent annually. However, year-to-year price changes have varied over time. High food price inflation in the 1970s—price increases as large as 16.4 and 14.9 percent in 1973 and 1974—was precipitated by food commodity and energy price shocks, whereas food price increases were minimal in 2009 and 2010, as the 2007-09 recession put downward pressure on prices for many goods, including food. The unusual decline in retail food prices in 2016 can be attributed to a culmination of factors. Declining prices for retail meats, eggs, and dairy during that year are largely a story about rising commodity production. Lower transportation costs due to low oil prices and the strength of the U.S. dollar also placed downward pressure on food prices in the first half of 2016. This chart appears in “Consumers Paid Less for Grocery Store Foods in 2016 Than in 2015” in the March 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Baking supplies cost less in 2016 than in 2015

Friday, December 16, 2016

This holiday season, consumers buying baking ingredients will find their wallets stretch a bit farther. The total cost in 2016 for five baking staples—eggs, milk, margarine, sugar, and flour—was down from 2015. A 5-pound bag of flour, 4-pound bag of sugar, gallon of whole milk, pound of margarine, and a carton of eggs would have cost $13.30 in October of 2015 compared to $11.65 in October of 2016—a savings of $1.65. Consumers may notice the biggest savings when they reach into the refrigerated cooler for eggs. Egg prices have been halved, declining year-over-year by $1.42 per dozen as the egg industry recovers from last year’s Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak. Price changes for the other categories are smaller and vary depending on the ingredient. Milk, sugar, and margarine cost less this year, while a 5-pound bag of flour cost 6 cents more than last year. More information on retail food prices and forecasted inflation can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 23, 2016.

Grocery store prices lower in the third quarter of 2016 from a year ago

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The food-at-home Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the third quarter of 2016 was 1.9 percent lower than the food-at-home CPI for the third quarter of 2015. Grocery store prices decreased, on average, across the board—with the exception of fresh fruits, which rose 2 percent. Egg prices saw the largest decrease, falling 35 percent, reflecting the recovery in the industry after the supply shock caused by late 2014 to June 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak. Beef and veal, dairy products, pork, and poultry also posted large decreases compared to third quarter 2015, reflecting larger supplies of cattle, raw milk, hogs, and broilers. In addition to increases in domestic supplies, lower oil and energy prices helped hold down retail food price inflation, while a strong U.S. dollar lowered costs for imported foods and decreased demand for U.S. exports, placing further downward pressure on U.S. retail food prices. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials chart collection. More information on retail food prices and forecasted inflation can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 23, 2016.

Lower ground beef prices reduce cost of home-grilled cheeseburgers by just over 6 percent from a year ago

Thursday, June 30, 2016

If cheeseburgers are on the menu for your July 4 barbecue, they will cost you less this year than last year. Thanks to lower prices for ground beef, bread, and tomatoes, the cost of a home-prepared cheeseburger was 6.3 percent lower in May 2016 compared with May 2015. In May 2016 (latest available prices), the ingredients for a quarter-pound cheeseburger totaled $1.72 per burger, with ground beef making up the largest cost at $0.93 and cheddar cheese accounting for $0.34. This same cheeseburger would have cost $1.83 to prepare in May 2015. Ground beef prices decreased 10.1 percent between May 2015 and May 2016, translating to a $0.10 per quarter-pound savings. Bread and tomato prices also decreased, bread prices fell 5.5 percent and tomato prices 2.6 percent. Cheddar cheese prices increased 1 percent from last May. Lettuce prices, on the other hand, were up 3.2 percent, but due the small piece of lettuce topping the cheeseburger, this translated into an increase of less than a cent per burger. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated June 24, 2016.

Food price inflation varies across U.S. metropolitan areas

Thursday, May 26, 2016

U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) experience different rates of inflation for food sold in supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers. For example, from 2006 to 2015, retail food prices rose 34.4 percent in Pittsburgh but only 17.4 percent in Detroit. Several factors account for variations in food price inflation across MSAs. Changes to the costs associated with transporting food products to the grocery store can also vary geographically, and volatile fuel prices can contribute to variation in retail food price inflation across MSAs. Fluctuations in retail overhead costs, such as labor and rent, may also differ from one area to another. Increases in retail overhead costs are often passed onto consumers as higher prices. However, in MSAs with falling consumer incomes, grocers may not be able to pass on price increases to budget-constrained consumers, dampening food price inflation. This chart appears in “Retail Food Price Inflation Varies Geographically” in the May 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Swings in field crop prices have relatively small impacts on food prices

Monday, May 9, 2016

U.S. commodity prices are much more volatile than restaurant and grocery-store prices, suggesting that fluctuations in prices of major field crops—corn, wheat, and soybeans—have a relatively small impact on food prices. From 1992 to 2015, the average farm price of these crops, weighted by total production, has fluctuated widely year to year—falling as much as 26.2 percent in 2013 and rising as much as 38 percent in 1995 and 2007. All-food price inflation, on the other hand, averaged 2.5 percent per year over the same time period. One reason for the relative stability in food prices, as compared to field crop prices, is that food prices reflect the costs of processing, marketing, and retailing the food products in addition to the cost of the commodity inputs. ERS's 2014 Food Dollar Series reports that the farmgate price of all food commodities (crops and livestock) was 14.5 cents of every consumer dollar spent on food and beverages. This chart appears in Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials on the ERS website, updated April 12, 2016.

Retail price forecasts for 2016 vary by food category

Monday, April 11, 2016

Grocery store food prices are forecast to rise between 1.5 and 2.5 percent in 2016, exceeding the 2015 increase of 1.2 percent, with some variation across food categories. Egg prices are expected to fall between 0.5 and 1.5 percent as the egg industry recovers from the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak, which reduced the supply of eggs in the U.S. market and drove retail egg prices up by 17.8 percent in 2015. Retail beef and veal prices will also likely decline in 2016, dropping up to 1 percent below 2015 levels. Like eggs, beef, and veal prices experienced higher than average inflation in 2015, but as producers expand their herds, more cattle will be ready for market in 2016. On the other hand, prices for pork and dairy products, which experienced deflation in 2015, are expected to increase up to 1 percent, and 2 to 3 percent, respectively. As the drought continues throughout much of California, ERS forecasts prices for fresh fruits and vegetables to rise between 2.5 and 3.5 percent. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated March 25, 2016.

2016 food price inflation expected to exceed 2015

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Over the last decade, retail food price inflation in the United States has bounced around a bit, with yearly price increases ranging from 0.3 to 6.4 percent. In 2007 and 2008, grocery store prices rose 4.2 and 6.4 percent, respectively—well above the 20-year annual average increase of 2.6 percent. Inflation during these years was largely due to a rapid increase in farm-level prices for rice, grains, and oilseeds. The low inflation in 2009 (0.5 percent) and 2010 (0.3 percent) reflected the Great Recession’s downward pressure on retail food price inflation. Prices again rose above average in 2011 as grocery prices adjusted post-recession. From 2012 through 2015, food price inflation varied, but stayed below average. Despite high egg and beef prices in 2015, food price inflation, at 1.2 percent, was less than 2014’s 2.4-percent rise. Lower pork, fresh fruit, and fats/oils prices helped ease overall food price inflation in 2015. In 2016, ERS expects retail food prices to increase between 2 and 3 percent, with some variation among grocery subcategories. For instance, fresh fruit prices are expected to rise 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2016, while egg prices are expected to decrease between 0.5 and 1.5 percent. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated February 25, 2016.

Retail egg prices rose 21 percent in third quarter 2015

Monday, February 8, 2016

Egg prices are among the most volatile in the grocery store. Unlike many other retail foods, shell eggs have a limited shelf life—they cannot be frozen or canned. If demand increases or supplies fall, there is limited inventory to draw upon and retail prices may rise. While some price fluctuations are expected due to seasonal demand for eggs throughout the year, there have been some above-average price increases over the past 16 years, mainly due to disease outbreaks affecting poultry or surges in feed prices. The most recent upswing in retail egg prices was largely due to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which affected table-egg-laying flocks, primarily in the Midwest. To contain the outbreak, which ran from late 2014 to June 2015, producers destroyed about 33 million hens (roughly 11 percent of U.S. egg-laying hens). Retail egg prices rose 20.9 percent in the third quarter of 2015, and egg prices in September 2015, were 36.2 percent higher than in September 2014. As the industry recovers from the outbreak, retail egg prices have begun to adjust, falling 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. This chart appears in “Retail Egg Price Volatility in 2015 Reflects Farm Conditions” in the February 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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