Food: What's In Your Basket? How Fast Are Prices Rising?

The BLS says the CPI rose 2.1% in December from a year ago. Food rose 1.6%. I called the BLS and filled in some numbers.

In CPI Up 0.1 Percent: How Much is the CPI Understated? I disputed the BLS's year-over-year overall inflation figure of 2.1%, specifically citing housing and the cost of health insurance.

I found the reported food increase reasonable, others didn't. Whether or not you find the food index believable depends on two things.

  1. What you buy
  2. How you shop

Reader AWC pointed out this BLS article from March of 2017: Prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs down 7 percent since August 2015 peak.​

I downloaded the data and started plugging in numbers for December 2017. The index numbers did not match, so I called the BLS. The person directed me to data downloads which I also found on my own. I still could not match the downloaded numbers.

What happened is the data for the the preceding chart was indexed to 2007 but the main index is to 1982.

I asked the BLS agent for year-over-year increases of items and the percentages matched.

CPI Select Food Items

I calculated all but the last row from the March article after verifying percentages with the BLS. The last row was read to me over the phone.

I created the main graph from the above chart.

How Do You Shop?

​Your percentages may vary substantially from the above chart.

Mine are cheaper because I buy items on sale and freeze them. Sale prices fluctuate less than non-sale prices.

Properly wrapped food will last a year or more.

Reader Comments

  • Sechel: I just looked up the data. so i don't know how they compute these indices, how geography plays a role or what constitutes fish, but i can only tell you in my corner of the world the west side of manhattan, prices for fish are up. not to be a snob, i don't eat tilapia and flounder, i consume arctic char, sockeye salmon, yellow fin tuna, branzino, and fresh sardines and prices are guaranteed to go up $1-$2 a pound per year.
  • JLS: My yesterday's grocery shopping included 7 zucchinis at 99c the bag (great for ratatouille); 6 tomatoes at 99c the bag; a 12 oz loaf of rye bread at 49c (good enough for toast), and much else. My local TJ sells a dozen large eggs at $1.49 (or sometimes less). It's amazing how cheaply you can live if you treat buying as a science. I live well and healthily. And my grandchildren will be instant millionaires when I die.
  • JiveFive: In general food prices are stable, if not lower due to sales-everyday at Jewel. Easy to find two Progresso soups for $3, Still $5.69 for 12 Bay's English muffins, $10 for four 6 oz frozen pizzas, $10 for 48 Eggo waffles.
  • El-Tedo: We eat a lot of fruit in our house, and I know fruit prices are very seasonable, but they have increased enormously the past 10 years. Items like apples, peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines & oranges used to be priced by the pound, now they are typically a dollar or more a piece. Mangos are a buck fifty a piece! A quarter of a watermelon is over $5! And, don't even think about buying a bag of cherries unless you've been mining some bitcoin.

Sale Prices 1968 vs Today

I worked at KMart Foods and the "Holiday IGA" in Danville, Illinois from 1968-1972.

Whole chickens on sale were a loss leader at $0.21 a pound. I had farmers tell me they could not raise them for that price.

Round Steak (Swiss Steak is a thicker cut) was a loss leader at $0.99 a pound. The market manager bitched every time round steak was on sale. I believe the comparable sirloin steak sales was $1.69.

Whole chickens go on sale now for $0.69 a pound and sometimes less. Round steak is $1.99 or less.

Chicken Inflation

On average chicken has gone up about 2.5% a year since 1968.

University of Illinois Tuition 1971-Present

In 1971, the year I graduated from High School, tuition at the University of Illinois for a degree in engineering was $250 a semester ($500 for a year).

The annualized rate of inflation from 1971 to today is 7.81%.

Numbers calculated from the Money Chimp CAGR Calculator.

Rule of 72

Prices will double in accordance with the Rule of 72. The rough approximation is 72 / interest rate.

At 2.5% inflation (chickens), prices will double about every 28 years.

At 7.8% inflation (tuition), prices will double every 9.23 years.

Least Inflation

Places where government has interfered the least have the least rates of inflation.

  • Food
  • Technology

Most Inflation

Places where government has meddled the most have the highest rates of inflation.

  • Housing (affordable home measures, Fannie Mae, Fed interest rate manipulation)
  • Education (Pell Grants, student loan guarantees, public unions)
  • Medical care (Obamacare etc)

Food is a Bargain

It's easy to bitch about food because one buys it all the time. People tend to remember every price increase and forget every decrease.

Want to cut your food bill?

  1. Eat at home, not at McDonalds.
  2. Stay away from prepared frozen foods.
  3. Don't buy Cocoa Puffs, Fruit Loops, Sugar Pops, etc.
  4. Get a freezer. Buy stuff on sale. Wrap it properly and freeze it.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments
No. 1-7
jeco
jeco

Education, health and housing have inflated faster because government has defacto subsidized these costs. IRS acting as the ultimate collection agency for student loans created the for profit college boom. Gaming mortgage rates, having gov agencies take on much of bad loan risks, having IRS collect on uninsured Obamacare

Advancingtime
Advancingtime

In the last 30 years, a growing gap has become obvious between government reporting of inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), and the perceptions of actual inflation held by the general public. The numbers government pumps out today are the result of changes made in the 1990s when political Washington moved to change the nature of the CPI.
The cuts in reported inflation were an effort to reduce the federal deficit without anyone in Congress having to do the politically impossible which was to register a vote that would harm the image of Social Security. I further contend that inflation would be much greater if more money was flowing into tangible goods rather than paper investments and promises. For proof as to the real cost of inflation just look at the surging replacement cost resulting from recent storms and natural disasters.

JLS3058
JLS3058

Apparent food prices may not have risen much. What about food quality? Lots of food are GMO now. Lots of frozen meat has HUGE layers of ice on them, and most of time it is not very visible until cooking.

klausmkl
klausmkl

I paid 3 dollars a pound for cauliflower. When i got home and looked at the receipt I was shocked. I brought them back figuring it was an obvious mistake. I was told no. I told them for that price let them sit on the shelf and rot.

lol
lol

everything is getting smaller and crapier,big bag of chips is almost half air!!lol,bar of soap is half the size it was just a few years ago,do this with virtually everything and inflation like gdp "rate" like unemployment "rate" will always support the gov't "narrative"

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