As the coronavirus spread across the United States in the early months of 2020, many Americans began preparing to be confined to their home for weeks and even months. Sales of shelf-stable food items spiked — and the increased demand may have contributed to higher prices at checkout.
Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, tracks the changes in the prices of goods and services — and the Federal Reserve Bank considers an annual inflation rate of about 2% to be ideal. Between January and February 2020, the CPI, or the average cost of goods and services, climbed by 0.27%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The prices of several common grocery items, however, increased at a much higher rate than the overall inflation rate.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the changes in the CPI between January and February — the most recent months available — for over 100 common grocery store items, to identify the 20 groceries driving up your food bill the most during the COVID-19 crisis. All data came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many of the items on this list have a long shelf life — ideal in a pandemic situation when people are urged to stay home as much as possible. Shoppers can stock up on such items and make less frequent trips to the store, reducing the likelihood of exposure to the virus. Here are some tips on how to buy food for a 14-day quarantine (and how not to).
It is important to note that January and February were the early days of the pandemic in the United States, and that social distancing and quarantining did not begin in earnest in much of the country until March. Additionally, increased demand is not the only explanation for rapid inflation, as consumer prices for specific items can also be driven up by increased production costs, such as the cost of labor or raw materials.
So while these price spikes occurred during the early days of the pandemic in the U.S., they are not all necessarily explained solely by demand surges as fears over COVID-19 mounted. And though shortages can also cause prices to spike, so far officials and food distributors say the U.S. food supply is quite strong.