A significant side effect of the coronavirus pandemic is the current inflation consumers are experiencing. According to NBC News, consumers saw price hikes for the third straight month in June, jumping 5.4 percent year over year as demand outweighs supply. From the price of gas to the grocery store, there's no way around the fact that as the world reopens, we'll be paying more to get our usual goods including that morning cup of jo.
Jayson L. Lusk, a distinguished professor and head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University told TODAY Food that one of the biggest reasons for the increase in grocery prices is that Americans are eating out again.
"Food prices, across the board (at home and away from home), are up 2.4% in June 2021 relative to June 2020," he said. "Most of the increase this summer is a result of increasing prices of food eaten at restaurants. Compared to last summer, prices of food eaten away from home are up 4.2% — substantially higher than the typical rates of annual increases.
Lusk said that beef and chicken prices are not much different this summer from where they were last summer, but that it should be noted that prices, especially for beef, were unusually high last summer. "So one way to think about it is that beef was expensive last summer and is still expensive this summer," he said. It's a big expense that hits hard, especially during grilling season. "Pork prices have been rising and are about 3% higher this summer than they were last summer."
Lusk said that based on latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are five foods that will definitely be pricier this summer based on increases from June 2020 to June 2021.
- Bacon — up 15.6%.
- Whole milk — up 11.2%.
- Eggs — up 5.7%.
- Ground coffee — up 1.9%.
- Bananas — up 1.2%.
On the other hand, grocery items such as flour and potatoes have seen a price drop since last summer.
"Prices for these particular items are lower today because we’ve been able to work our way through some of the COVID-related supply chain disruptions that were still hampering many food markets last summer," said Lusk.
On his blog, Lusk noted that food manufacturing wage increases can affect food prices. And as more people get vaccinated and return to restaurants, the demand on our favorite eateries increases, driving up the cost of food.
"One of the reasons we're seeing prices of food away from home increasing is that, as we are coming out of the pandemic, more people are eating out, and that extra demand is putting pressure on restaurant prices," said Lusk. "Moreover, wage rates for restaurant workers are on the rise, which is putting pressure on restaurant food prices."
As for pork, Lusk said there are a couple of factors at play. "Feed prices (corn and soybeans) are higher and China has increased imports of U.S. pork. In addition, the hog herd is smaller, partially as a result of the fact that we are still working through supply chain disruptions from last year."
But fear not — you don't have to cancel that lunch with friends or forgo making yet another banana bread. there are some simple tricks you can use to save money at the grocery store, including keeping track of your grocery spending, taking inventory of what you already have (and using it!) and meal planning to reduce food waste and save on your food bill.
Smart shoppers will also watch for sales, comparison shop and consider buying useful, non-perishable items in bulk and even making use of an extra freezer whenever possible. When it comes to saving money, cheap and healthy can go hand in hand.