Grocery prices comparison: Inflation at its worst vs today

(NewsNation) — Annual inflation cooled to 3.1% last month, but that’s still hotter than expected, and rising food prices are part of the reason why.

From December to January, grocery prices accelerated 0.4%, up from 0.1% the month prior, according to the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) released Tuesday.

Compared to a year ago food inflation has improved. Grocery prices are up 1.2% year-over-year, the slowest annual rate since June 2021 and well below the 13.5% surge in August 2022.

Data suggests Americans’ pain at the checkout varies based on their shopping cart. Prices for staples like eggs, apples and lettuce are down while other items like bread, sugar and juice continue to rise.

Today, Americans are paying 25% more for groceries than they were in 2019 and those prices have risen faster than overall inflation. A recent NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll found nearly 9 in 10 people are still concerned about inflation and a plurality (46%) ranked it as the top issue facing the country.

Research suggests supermarket prices play an outsized role in shaping consumers’ perceptions about inflation and in recent months President Joe Biden has blamed corporations for “ripping people off.”

In a video posted to social media before Sunday’s Super Bowl, the president accused companies of “shrinkflation” — charging people the same price for smaller food packages.

Grocery prices are expected to decrease by 0.4% over the year but they probably aren’t going back to “normal” because widespread deflation would trigger other economic problems.

Instead, policymakers are looking to pull off a “soft landing,” slowing inflation without tipping the economy into a recession.

Here’s what’s more and less expensive at the supermarket since Biden took office, according to the Consumer Price Index’s average price data, which measures the retail price of an item.

Eggs: Down from record highs but up in recent months

Jan. 2021: $1.47 per dozen

Peak (Jan. 2023): $4.82 per dozen

Current (Jan. 2024): $2.52 per dozen

Last month, the average price for a dozen eggs was $2.52. That’s down nearly 50% from Jan. 2023 when a bird flu outbreak sent prices skyrocketing to more than $5 in some parts of the country. “Eggflation” was so bad that border agents saw an uptick in egg smuggling from Mexico into the U.S.

Prices fell to $2.04 per dozen in August but have increased in recent months after another bird flu outbreak hit chicken flocks in November.

In January 2021 a carton of eggs cost $1.47 on average, roughly 40% less than today.

Beef prices could go up in 2024

Jan. 2021: $4.31 per pound

Peak (Oct. 2023): $5.35 per pound

Current (Jan. 2024): $5.09 per pound

The average price for a pound of 100% ground chuck was down 5% last month compared to October’s peak when it cost $5.35.

But higher beef prices could be coming. After declining in 2023, beef production is expected to fall once again by about 3% this year.

Total U.S. cattle inventory is currently at its lowest level since 1951 — a result of farmers selling off their herds due to severe drought. In the short-term prices are likely to remain stable, but toward the end of the year and into 2025, consumers could see record-high beef prices, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

Bread prices are up but not rising as fast

Jan. 2021: $1.55

Peak (Jan. 2024): $2.03

The average price for a pound of white bread rose in January to $2.03 per pound. Unlike other grocery items, bread prices haven’t come down but they are increasing slower than before.

From January 2022 to 2023 the average price jumped more than 20% but over the past year that’s decelerated to about 7%. Bread prices are mostly unchanged since April 2023 when a pound of white bread cost $1.99.

Three years ago the same white bread cost $1.55 per pound, about 25% less.

Higher sugar and flour prices have directly contributed to elevated costs. The war in Ukraine has also impacted grain exports worldwide.

Produce prices down from recent peaks

Several items in the produce section cost less today compared to a year ago. In November 2022, a virus hit America’s “Salad Bowl,” the Salinas Valley, causing widespread damage that sent lettuce prices up. Since then, the average price for romaine lettuce has dropped almost 30% to $2.59 per pound today.

The average price for beans and tomatoes is also down from recent highs, 8% and 4%, respectively.

Orange prices are also off their inflationary peak, dropping 10% from $1.73 in October to 2022 to $1.55 last month.

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