An informal national survey of grocery store prices found a slight increase in the cost of several staple food items common to America's kitchen cupboards. An overall increase in meat and dairy products lead the way for an approximately 3% increase in the cost of 16 staple food items—up $1.66 since the first half of 2013 for a total grocery bill of $53.20.
American Farm Bureau Federation's (AFBF) semi-annual Marketbasket Survey is an unscientific study enlisting volunteer shoppers across the country to estimate food cost trends. A total of 79 shoppers in 25 states—including Michigan—participated in the latest survey, conducted in September.
Eleven of the 16 items surveyed were more expensive than six months ago; the remaining five decreased in average price.
"Several poultry and dairy product items increased in price during the second half of the year, accounting for much of the increase in the Marketbasket," says John Anderson, AFBF's deputy chief economist. "As anticipated, food prices have increased by about three% so far during the year, which is slightly higher than the average rate of inflation over the past 10 years."
Items showing increases included chicken breasts, up 61 cents to $3.93 per pound; Russet potatoes, up 49 cents to $3.18 for a 5-pound bag; bacon, up 43 cents to $4.71 per pound; whole milk, up 25 cents to $3.71 per gallon; vegetable oil, up 20 cents to $3.12 for a 32-ounce bottle; orange juice, up 19 cents to $3.47 per half-gallon; white bread, up 18 cents to $1.83 for a 20-ounce loaf; toasted oat cereal, up 18 cents to $3.09 for a nine-ounce box; bagged salad, up 12 cents to $2.83 per pound; shredded cheddar cheese, up four cents to $4.51 per pound; and flour, up four cents to $2.66 for a five-pound bag.
Conversely, deli ham got more affordable—down 68 cents to $4.71 per pound—as did sirloin tip roast, down 28 cents to $4.35 per pound; ground chuck, down five cents to $3.69 per pound; apples, down four cents to $1.59 per pound; and eggs, down two cents to $1.82 per dozen.
"Three percent is a fairly healthy increase over a six-month period," Anderson says. "Energy prices still keep an upward pressure on food prices, and overall they're still kinda high," he adds, noting that costlier energy inevitably makes food processing and retail activity more expensive.
Conventionally produced staples continue to have substantial price advantage over their popular niche variations.
Price checkers participating in the survey found a half-gallon of regular milk cost an average of $2.50—$1.39 less than organic milk. Similarly, a dozen regular eggs at an average price of $1.82 were a full $1.50 cheaper than a dozen labeled "cage free."
The Marketbasket Survey tracks closely with the federal government's Consumer Price Index report for food at home. As retail grocery prices have gradually increased, the share of the average food dollar that goes to American farmers has decreased.
According to USDA, Americans spend just under 10% of their disposable annual income on food, the lowest average of any country in the world.
AFBF, the nation's largest general farm organization, conducted an informal quarterly Marketbasket Survey of retail food price trends from 1989 to 2012. In 2013, the Marketbasket series was updated to include two semi-annual surveys of everyday food items, a summer cookout survey and the annual Thanksgiving survey.