After two years of higher-than-normal grocery inflation, retail food prices are headed for their first year-over-year decline since 2017, said USDA economists on Thursday. Grocery prices would be an average of 0.4 percent lower this year than in 2023, led by falling prices for pork, eggs, fresh vegetables, and cereal and bakery products.
The U.S. food inflation rate, on the decline since August 2022, shrank to an annualized rate of 2.7 percent at the end of 2023, said the monthly Consumer Price Index report on Thursday. A Purdue survey said Americans’ expectations of food inflation are the lowest in two years, suggesting consumers are more optimistic about prices this year.
Compared to food price inflation of 11 percent in 2022, grocery price increases will be virtually nonexistent this year, said a Wells Fargo analyst Wednesday during a panel discussion on the 2024 outlook for the food and ag sector. A Rabobank analyst said that softer commodity prices would take the steam out of the hot farmland market.
After outrunning the rest of the U.S. economy for 19 months, food price inflation has slowed to 3.7 percent, the same rate as the nation overall, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday. Dairy prices fell 0.2 percent on an annualized basis while meat, fish, poultry, egg, fruit, and vegetable prices rose modestly.
Americans opened their wallets to spend a record amount on food last year, even when inflation is considered, partly because they like the convenience of take-out and restaurant food, said two USDA economists. Outlays on food away from home grew by an inflation-adjusted 11 percent last year at the same time inflation was driving up prices.
Although the U.S. inflation rate is up for the second month in a row, the annualized food inflation rate of 4.3 percent is the lowest since the 3.7 percent rate in August 2021, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday. The food inflation rate has fallen each month since peaking at 11.4 percent in August 2022.
Due to rising participation rates and food inflation, the Women, Infants, and Children program will need $7.2 billion to $7.3 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 — far above the amounts being considered by Congress, said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Wednesday.
In its first forecast of 2024 food costs, the government said grocery prices would climb by a modest 0.9 percent next year. If so, it would be the lowest annual grocery inflation rate in five years and mark the end of the period of high food inflation that followed the pandemic. Also on Tuesday, USDA economists lowered their forecast of grocery price inflation for this year for the fifth month in a row.
Led by lower meat, poultry, fish, and egg prices, the food inflation rate fell to 5.7 percent in June, the lowest annualized figure since October 2021, said the Labor Department on Wednesday.
Although it remains high, the food inflation rate is one third lower than it was at the start of the year, the government said on Tuesday. The food inflation rate of 10.1 percent in January has tumbled to 6.7 percent on an annualized basis, according to the Consumer Price Index report.
For the third month in a row, the USDA lowered its forecast of grocery price inflation this year. The monthly Food Price Outlook estimated that grocery prices would rise by an average of 6.3 percent this year, compared to 11.4 percent in 2022.
Grocery prices will rise 6.6 percent this year, with lower beef and pork prices helping to constrain the inflation rate after last year’s 11.4 percent rise, said USDA economists. At the start of the year, the USDA forecast an 8.6 percent increase in prices, but it has lowered its estimate for two months in a row.
Egg prices fell nearly 11 percent during March, contributing to the first decline — 0.3 percent for the month — in grocery price inflation since September 2020, said the Labor Department on Wednesday. The overall food inflation rate, which includes restaurant meals, takeout food, and school cafeterias, was down for the seventh month in a row.
After two record-setting years in a row, U.S. net farm income will decline sharply in the near term, pulled down by lower crop and livestock prices, though it will remain well above its 10-year average, said FAPRI on Wednesday. The University of Missouri think tank said food inflation would drop to 4.4 percent this year — less than half of last year’s rate — and run at 2 percent in following years.
Grocery prices will rise 7.8 percent this year, three times the usual pace for food inflation albeit slower than in 2022, said USDA economists in the monthly Food Price Outlook.
Although food inflation slowed for the sixth month in a row, it still was far above the annualized U.S. inflation rate of 6 percent, said the Labor Department on Tuesday. The food inflation rate of 9.5 percent was the lowest since last April, the last time the rate was below 10 percent.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine fueled a sharp rise in food prices last winter, but prices have fallen for 10 straight months, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
The 9.9 percent food inflation rate of 2022 will be followed by a 7.1 percent rate this year, the highest rates in three decades, said USDA economists on Wednesday. Egg prices were forecast to rise 27 percent this year, on top of a 32 percent increase in 2022.