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Food Prices Highest in 30 Years: Groceries Chew Up American Incomes

by Richard A Reagan

In an economic climate reminiscent of the early ’90s, American families are once again grappling with soaring food prices. [Source]

A recent Wall Street Journal report highlights this alarming trend, with inflation stubbornly keeping the cost of everyday food items at elevated levels. 

Steve Cahillane, chief executive of snack giant Kellanova, encapsulates the issue, noting, “If you look historically after periods of inflation, there’s really no period you could point to where [food] prices go back down. They tend to be sticky.”

Despite a slight easing in overall inflation from the sharp increases experienced throughout 2022 and 2023, food costs continue to climb.

The Labor Department’s recent data reveals a 5.1% surge in restaurant prices and a 1.2% increase in grocery bills compared to January 2023. These figures underscore a persistent upward trend in food-related expenses, even as other inflationary pressures begin to subside.

Reflecting on the past, the U.S. Agriculture Department reports that in 1991, U.S. consumers allocated 11.4% of their disposable personal income to food. Fast forward to 2022, and that figure has nearly mirrored itself, with Americans spending 11.3% of their disposable income on sustenance. 

President Joe Biden has criticized the situation on Instagram during the Super Bowl, particularly targeting practices like “shrinkflation,” where consumers find themselves paying the same price for less product. “The American public is tired of being played for suckers,” Biden remarked, expressing a sentiment felt by many. “I’ve had enough of what they call shrinkflation. It’s a rip-off.” [Source]

In response to these grievances, David Chavern, the CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, offered a different viewpoint. He argued that the market offers a range of product pricing options and emphasized the sector’s readiness to work closely with government officials to develop meaningful measures that would advantage consumers. [Source]

Food companies also face their own set of hurdles. While some commodity prices have decreased, others like sugar, beef, and french fries remain high or continue to rise, further complicating the economic landscape.

Economists like Peter Ireland of Boston College point to the broader implications of these trends, noting that food and energy prices are rising more rapidly than incomes. [Source]

“We had forgotten about just how costly and painful inflation is, especially for our most vulnerable people on fixed incomes,” Ireland observes. 

For the everyday American, these rising costs are more than just statistics; they’re daily realities that impact financial stability and quality of life. Una Simmons, a Boston resident, voices a common concern: “It’s gotten much more expensive to do grocery shopping… Costs of goods have gone up probably 50%.”

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