With gas prices below $2 per gallon — about half of what they were less than two years ago — many are feeling a little relief at the pump. At the grocery store, however, the price of basic food items such as eggs, meat, and bread have all increased by at least 40% in recent years, despite tame national inflation.
Nationwide, food prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), increased 31.5% from 2005 through 2015, faster than general inflation over that period. The price of eggs more than doubled over the period reviewed, by far the largest increase of any grocery item. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 24/7 Wall St. examined consumer price changes from 2005 through 2015 for more than 300 goods and services. These are the grocery items driving up your bill the most.
Sickness and disease of livestock are the primary reasons for many food price increases. An avian flu outbreak in August 2015 forced farmers to kill millions of egg-laying chickens, contributing to the 110% increase in the price of eggs in the 11 years through 2015. Similarly, a porcine epidemic diarrhea virus swept through the hog industry in 2013 and 2014, killing millions of pigs. Perhaps as a consequence, prices of bacon and sausage increased by 34.5%, and hot dog prices rose by 43.5%.
Particularly dry or extremely rainy seasons in food growing regions can also have a significant impact on consumer food prices. For example, grain such as wheat is highly susceptible to flooding that can occur in Plains states where most of the U.S. crop is grown.
Drought, a perennial problem in California, can also lead to sudden price increases of corn, the primary food for livestock. When feed prices spike, many farmers bring their animals to market earlier than they normally would to avoid the higher costs of raising them. This may induce a temporary decline in related consumer prices such as beef, pork, or milk, but future supply of these goods may be less able to meet demand, causing price increases.
One reason for the spike in feed prices may be due to competition from other industries for corn. For example, corn can be used to make ethanol, and historically high fuel prices during the period reviewed may have resulted in more corn being allocated to fuel than to feed. For this reason, corn reserves hit their lowest level in 15 years in 2011 due to rising ethanol demand. Consumer food prices rose as a result.
Higher global demand is another reason food prices may increase. A number of fish species, for example, including tilapia, salmon, and shellfish, are particularly popular in China and often subject to overfishing as a result of the county’s rapid population growth and food needs. Similarly, trade restrictions in Vietnam and India, two of the world’s largest rice producers, drove up the price of rice in 2008.
Rising food prices not only increase Americans’ grocery bills, but also can impact restaurants, which could be forced to amend portion sizes or entire menus to stave off shrinking margins. Restaurants may even decide to fire workers, forcing some service industry workers to contend not only with higher food prices, but unemployment as well.
To determine the grocery items driving up your bill the most, 24/7 Wall St., reviewed consumer price indices from 2005 through 2015 for over 300 goods from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Definitions for each food category also came from the BLS.
These are the groceries driving up your bill the most.
20. Fresh whole chicken
Consumer prices for chicken rose 33.1% from 2005 through 2015, just higher than the 31.5% increase in food prices generally. Like other types of meat, chicken prices are highly sensitive to the cost of feed. When feed prices spiked in 2011, many farmers purposefully limited their stock of chickens to cut costs. High feed prices are not the only reason for the rising price of chicken, however. Adding to an already existing shortage of breeder birds, it was discovered in 2014 that the Ross breed is susceptible to being overfed, and that its fertility declines as a result. Ross roosters are estimated to sire about 25% of the country’s meat-producing chickens.
19. Bacon and related products
Prices of bacon and related products, including all cuts of bacon and breakfast sausage, increased by 34.5% from 2005 through 2015, just higher than the 31.5% price increase of food generally. Higher prices are largely the result of a 2013 and 2014 porcine epidemic diarrhea virus that killed millions of pigs. However, the virus appears to be waning, and the hog population is rising again as a result. This may have contributed to the recent decline in pork prices, which fell 3.9% in 2015.
18. Flour and prepared flour mixes
Recent global demand for grain as well as production shortfalls due to extreme weather have undercut grain surpluses worldwide. One study from the University of Florida found that for every 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures, the world could lose up to 6% of its wheat crop. Rising prices may reflect the current weather effects on grain crops worldwide. Flooding and droughts in the United States, too, have whittled away grain surpluses, likely contributing to the price increase. From 2005 through 2015, consumer prices of U.S. flour products, which are made from grain, rose by nearly 35%.
17. Propane, kerosene, and firewood
While gas prices have recently fallen well below $2 per gallon, energy prices were not always this low. In fact, a 2014 shortage of natural gas, which is used in the production of propane, caused propane prices to skyrocket in the Midwest and other areas that are far from production centers. Price increases in this category were part of a larger trend from 2005 through 2015. Consumer prices of propane, kerosene, and firewood increased by more than 35%.
16. Bakery products
Consumer prices for bakery products — including biscuits, muffins, cakes, cookies, and crackers — have increased by nearly 36% from 2005 through 2015. Bakery products are sensitive to the price of flour, which increased following flooding in a number of Midwestern states.
Unlike many of the grocery items with the largest price increases, potatoes are not suffering from a lack of supply. In fact, potato production has increased since the recession and led to price increases, despite expectations of falling prices. Strong demand for potatoes has allowed farmers to raise prices even as they ship more potatoes.
14. Roasted coffee
Like a number of other foods, coffee is very weather dependent. For example, less-than-normal rainfall in Brazil, the world’s largest grower and exporter of coffee, caused the price of coffee to surge 9.3% in a single month in 2015. Coupled with declining inventories, demand for coffee is also rising. The International Coffee Organization, an intergovernmental body of coffee trading countries, predicts that global coffee demand will increase by 25% by 2020. Increased demand will likely lead to higher prices.
13. Pet food
Consumer prices of pet food increased 37.7% from 2005 through 2015, faster than other food items and significantly faster than inflation generally. Much of the price increase of pet food is due to international factors. According to the USDA, the trend in developing countries away from feeding pets table scraps, as well as the movement towards healthier pet foods in more advanced markets, have contributed to the price increase.
12. Canned vegetables
The price of canned vegetables increased by 40.5% in the 11 years ending 2015. One study from the Economic Research Service, an analytical branch of the USDA, found that households of older individuals tend to consume canned vegetables in greater quantities than other households. Consequently, the price increase of canned vegetables may be related to the ageing of the U.S. population. As of 2010, people 65 and older comprise 13% of the U.S. population, the highest share on record.
11. Prescription drugs
Former hedge fund manager and biotech CEO Martin Shkreli garnered widespread scorn when his company — Turing Pharmaceuticals — raised the price of an important antimalarial and HIV medication from $13.50 to $750 per pill. While this was an extreme case — and the price was ultimately returned to its former level — the price of prescription drugs has increased by more than 40% since 2005.
Consumer apple prices increased by 41.8% between 2005 and 2015, much higher than the 31.5% increase in food prices generally. Like many other food items, apple prices are dictated in large part by availability and weather patterns. One report released by the Washington state government — where nearly 60% of domestic apples are grown — suggests that apple yields may fall 20% to 30% as climate change affects snowpack and river patterns. Falling apple supply, in turn, may lead to higher prices.
Flooding and droughts are largely responsible for increasing flour prices, which in turn, have contributed to bread prices going higher. Between 2005 and 2015, consumer prices of bread rose 42.9%, higher than the 31.5% price increase of all foods.
8. Oranges, including tangerines
Florida and California produce nearly all U.S. oranges and tangerines. Such fruit production is highly susceptible to extreme weather and disease. Like many food items with large price increases, the 43.4% increase in the price of oranges and tangerines from 2005 through 2015 is likely due to insufficient supply. A 2013 frost in southern California as well as an ongoing greening disease in Florida have curbed the supply of oranges and will likely continue to limit the supply, causing further price increases at the grocery store.
The price of hot dogs, like other meat products, has risen substantially in the 11 years ending in 2015. The death of millions of pigs due to a porcine epidemic diarrhea virus in 2013 and 2014 is largely responsible for the price increase. Hot dog prices are currently at their highest level since 1990. However, they may fall in the future, as the pork industry has started to recover.
6. Rice, pasta, cornmeal
Consumer prices of rice, pasta, and cornmeal increased 44.2% between 2005 and the end of 2015, nearly 13 percentage points faster than food prices in general. The bulk of the increase occurred in 2008, after Vietnam and India, two of the world’s largest rice producers, implemented export restrictions. In addition, record high oil prices — which impact nearly every aspect of farming — also contributed to price increases of rice, pasta, and cornmeal.
5. Shelf stable fish and seafood
Like many of the grocery items with rapidly increasing prices, both supply and demand factors have influenced the price of shelf stable fish and seafood, which includes canned fish. According to the USDA, certain fish species — such as tilapia, salmon, and many shellfish — face increased demand, particularly from China. As is the case in other food markets, rising feed costs have also contributed to the decline of fish populations such as tuna and shrimp.
4. Uncooked ground beef
Consumer prices of uncooked ground beef increased by more than 65% from 2005 through 2015, more than double the increase in food prices generally. The price of all beef and veal products increased by 56.2% over the same period. Severe drought throughout the U.S. in 2012 led to a spike in corn prices, the primary feed grain of cows and other animals. This induced many cattle farmers to bring a larger share of their herd to market to avoid higher feeding costs and drove the total number of cattle in the country to 87.7 million, the lowest since 1951.
Rising margarine prices have been largely driven by the supply and demand for butter, a close substitute. According to one estimate, an average American consumes nearly 6 pounds of butter each year, up from 5 pounds in 2010. International demand for butter and margarine has also grown as many developing countries expand their food service industry. Meanwhile, since the recession, many dairy farmers have gone out of business due to low milk prices and droughts in California. This has significantly restricted the supply of dairy products, causing a price increase in butter, which potentially forced would-be-butter-users towards margarine.
2. Tobacco and smoking products
Consumer prices of tobacco and smoking products — including cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and some e-cigarettes, among other products — have soared 92% from 2005 through 2015, nearly triple the average price increase of all grocery products. The largest price increase occurred in early 2009 when the federal tobacco tax increased by 62 cents to $1.01. Cigarette prices may rise even further. President Barack Obama has proposed an additional 94 cent tax increase, though it has not garnered much support.
Eggs had by far the largest increase in consumer prices from 2005 through 2015, with prices increasing more than 110%. Prices peaked in August 2015 after an avian flu outbreak forced farmers to kill millions of egg-laying chickens. Even before the outbreak, the price of eggs had increased more than any food item. Still, egg prices fell 13.8% from their August high.
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