Meat and cheese were the strongest drivers of higher retail food prices during the first quarter, according to an informal survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).
Its Marketbasket survey looked at the total cost of an average basket of 16 staple food items that can be used as meal ingredients, and found an increase of 7% compared to a year earlier, from $49.23 to $52.47. Compared to the last quarter of 2011, 13 of the items had increased in average price and three decreased in price, the organization said.
It said that about two-thirds of this change could be attributed to higher retail prices for sliced deli ham, sirloin tip roast, ground chuck, bacon and cheddar cheese.
AFBF senior economist John Anderson said: “Retail prices for meats and cheese were higher in the first quarter of the year due to generally strong demand and tight supplies, a situation that carried over from 2011.
“According to Agriculture Department data, retail meat prices probably peaked sometime in the first quarter, and wholesale prices have declined noticeably in recent weeks. This suggests that retail meat prices may decline as 2012 progresses.”
The AFBF said that the direction of its Marketbasket survey has tracked that of the government’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) data over time.
However, according to the most recent data from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CPI for food at home has risen by about half the amount suggested by the AFBF survey, or 3.6% over the past year, its smallest 12-month change since last March.
The CPI is used as one of several measures of inflation, and compares prices paid by urban consumers over time for a standard sample of goods.
While the CPI has risen overall, with the largest rise for dairy (6.3%), the department says the index for fruits and vegetables actually declined 3.9% over the past year.