Consumer prices rose by a larger-than-expected 5.4 percent over the past year, the biggest 12-month increase in the U.S. inflation rate since August 2008, said the Labor Department on Tuesday. Prices for restaurant meals, carry-out food, food from vending machines, and snacks were up by a strong 4.2 percent as the food service sector reopened after pandemic restrictions.
After increasing for 12 months in a row during the pandemic, international food prices are the highest they've been since September 2011, said the monthly Food Price Index, released on Thursday. The index surged 4.8 percent in May, its largest monthly increase in nearly 11 years.
The increases are seemingly small – an additional 27 cents for a pound of ground chuck at the grocery store, for example – but they are part of a brisk 3.5 percent increase in food prices since the pandemic hit the United States last March. The increase in food prices outpaced the overall U.S. inflation rate of 2.6 percent, the government said on Tuesday.
Prices for many categories of food have been slow to retreat from pandemic-driven peaks, said the USDA. As a result, seafood and poultry prices throughout the year will be higher than usual, bolstering the USDA forecast that grocery prices will rise by 3 percent this year.
Grocery store prices for meat are declining after their springtime coronavirus surge, but more slowly than expected, meaning that shoppers will pay noticeably more at the meat counter this year than in 2019, said USDA economists. In the monthly Food Price Outlook, the USDA forecast meat prices will rise 6.5 percent this year, more than double their usual rate.
Lower prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs were the driving factor for a slight decline in grocery prices during August, the second month in a row that supermarket prices were down, said the monthly Consumer Price Index. Despite the decreases, food inflation ran at 4.6 percent in the past 12 months, rising far more rapidly than the overall U.S. rate of 1.3 percent.
After soaring because of coronavirus outbreaks among packing plant employees, meat prices are on the decline for the first time this year and are headed lower, said the USDA on Tuesday.
Beef prices in the grocery store are 14.2 percent higher than a year ago, part of a broad rise in prices for "food at home," said the Labor Department on Wednesday. While it was the fourth month in a row of surging grocery prices, there were signs that food inflation is easing.
Food stamp benefits will rise by 5.3 percent in October, to a maximum of $680 per month for a family of four in the continental United States, said the USDA Food and Nutrition Service on Wednesday. The cost-of-living adjustment was announced even as anti-hunger groups are calling for a temporary 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits during the pandemic.