If you’ve been to a grocery store lately, it’s hard not to notice that pretty much everything is more expensive than it was just a year ago.
It used to be that $20 was enough to buy a few fruits and veggies plus daily staples like milk, eggs and bread. But clearly that was back in the good old days.
The sticker shock on an organic melon ($6.19!) recently prompted me to decline it at the register, and I’ve noticed that favorite items cost noticeably more than the last time I bought them. Over the past few years, for example, I have seen my favorite Ak Mak flatbread crackers go up from 99 cents a box to $1.89.
I know the California drought is a significant factor in the rising price of fresh produce, so I totally understand why Corey needed to increase prices for the Golden Gate Organics boxes starting next week. I’ve been curious about what is driving other increases, though, like the cost of Greek yogurt or my Ak Mak.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of food is up 2.5 percent overall since May 2013 and the price index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs are at an all-time high.
The Wall Street Journal reports that food prices are set for another big jump this fall, due to a trifecta of factors — disease (in both hog farms and the citrus industry), demand (smaller cattle herds but high consumer demand) and California’s unprecedented drought (the driest year on record).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects food prices to jump an additional 3.5 percent in 2014, and the cost of meat is rising the fastest. According to the USDA Food Price Outlook for 2014-2015:
• The cost of meats, fish and eggs led the biggest food price increase in nearly 2 ½ years. An index that tracks those things climbed 4 percent over the past year.
• Beef prices are at record highs and are expected to increase up to 7.5 percent in 2014. Part of that is because of smaller drought-reduced herds in Western states, but also because a cold Midwest winter cut hay production and lowered the meat “output” per cow this past year.
• Pork is up 12.2 percent since a year ago, due primarily to a deadly disease that has devastated the hog industry nationwide; the cost for pork will likely continue to skyrocket.
• Egg prices are up more than 10 percent since this time last year, largely because of the increased cost of corn for chicken feed.
• Butter increased 16.5 percent since July 2013 and jumped 3.9 percent this past July alone, while dairy prices are expected to climb up to 4 percent in 2014 based on strong consumer demand for milk and cheese.
On the produce front, fruit and vegetable prices have increased almost 1 percent a month for the last six months but are expected to level out at 6 percent overall for the year.
Citrus fruit, however, is spiking and orange juice is up 22.5 percent because of a cold Florida winter and a disease that causes oranges to fall off the tree prematurely.
The California drought is still the major factor for high produce prices though. A recent study by Arizona State University agribusiness professor Timothy Richards identified nine produce items whose prices will increase the most because of the drought.
The study is based on the assumption that the drought will continue and that 500,000 to 1 million acres of California farmland will remain fallow next year.
Richards expects lettuce prices to jump by 34 percent, avocados by 28 percent, broccoli by 22 percent, grapes by 21 percent, tomatoes by 19 percent, melons by 18 percent, berries and peppers by 14 percent, and salad mixes by 13 percent.
Those numbers are troubling, especially since they reflect conventionally grown produce, not organic, which typically costs more. But if you think about it, even expensive produce is cheaper than meat — another good reason to eat a plant-based diet.