Food Prices on the Rise: What You Need to Know

Thursday, August 19, 2010

If you are like most people who want to save money on the grocery bill, you have probably already embraced several useful tactics to accomplish that end, from cutting coupons to buying generic to waiting for sales on meats and other expensive items. However, the fact that you are already doing a lot to cut spending only makes it harder for you to find new ways to save when food costs increase, as has happened this year. In fact, many food items that you find in the grocery store are prone to experience price fluctuations due to a number of factors, including growing conditions (or supply of crops), shipping costs, consumer demand, and retailer markup. And although most stores are reluctant to pass on rising wholesale costs to consumers during a recession (when people are unwilling or unable to absorb the hike in prices), you will almost certainly find that it reaches you in other ways.

For starters, you may, in fact, notice that the cost of some goods has gone up. Earlier in the year, Florida experienced an early cold snap that significantly reduced the output of some of their major crops (mainly tomatoes and other vegetables). While other states also supply some of these items, the fact that other farms didn’t plan to cover such a gap may leave a shortage that bumps up the cost for consumers. However, most vegetable crops grow fairly quickly, so you might not see any indication that this incident has affected the market. But even if you don’t notice the price of fresh veggies soaring, you may feel the squeeze in other ways. In some cases, a severe shortage of a particular crop can mean that the items you want simply aren’t available. Remember the horrible El NiƱo year in the late ‘90s that affected lettuce crops in California? It was months before romaine lettuce was available to a large portion of the country.

In addition, producers, manufacturers, and retailers may pass the cost on to you in other, more insidious ways. For example, you may buy a box of cereal for the same cost you always pay only to discover that it is now sold in a smaller box. In other words, there has been a significant reduction in the contents. Or they may sell it in the exact same box but put less cereal in. In either case, they are attempting to dupe the public into essentially paying more for less. But what can you do to combat these trends in rising food costs?

The best course of action is to keep doing what you’re already doing, which is shopping sales and utilizing coupons. However, if you find the fluctuating prices of fresh produce a bit unsettling, there are other ways to get what you want for less money. You can visit your local farmer’s market throughout the summer months, buy in bulk for better prices, and freeze or can the extra fruits and veggies for use throughout the winter. Or if you’re handy in the garden, simply plant your own. There’s no better and cheaper way to enjoy plenty of fresh produce at a fraction of the cost. As for items that you can’t produce on your own, consider filing a complaint so that companies realize that consumers are disgruntled. Or consider asking for free samples of certain items to counteract the added cost (or reduced weight).

Dana Livingston is a writer for a culinary institute website where you can browse schools and the latest trends in the culinary arena.

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