Supermarket prices shot up a full 1% in January, despite a decline in the cost of beef and pork, and are up 7.4% over the past year as inflation shows little sign of abating.
The rise in food costs contributed to a 0.6% increase in the Consumer Price Index for January. The CPI is up 7.5% over the past 12 months, the largest such increase since February 1982, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday.
It was the largest monthly increase in supermarket prices since they rose 1.2% in September.
Prices for five of the six major supermarket food groups rose in January, led by the index for cereals and bakery products, which was up 1.8% for the month. Prices for dairy products jumped 1.1%, while fruit and vegetables cost 0.9% more.
President Joe Biden acknowledged the continued inflation but noted that economists except it to ease over the year.
"We have been using every tool at our disposal, and while today is a reminder that Americans’ budgets are being stretched in ways that create real stress at the kitchen table, there are also signs that we will make it through this challenge," he said in a statement.
But the issue threatens to dog Democrats heading into the mid-term elections. "Yet again, the data confirm what working families already know painfully well - rampant inflation and soaring prices are crushing, crushing the American people," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs increased 0.3%. Prices for meat, particularly beef, were a major driver of food inflation in 2021; the index for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs is up 12.2% over the past 12 months.
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The Biden administration has singled out large meat processors for blame for the increase in food prices.
Beef prices actually fell in January by 1.3%, while the cost of pork products slipped 0.2%. Those declines were offset by a 2% increase in egg prices, a 1.3% rise in the cost of fish and seafood, and a 0.8% increase in the cost of poultry, which was entirely due to higher prices for turkey.
Electricity and housing costs also were major contributors to inflation in January. Electricity prices alone rose 4.2% for the month.
Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, The Food Industry Association, which represents major supermarket chains, said the continued increase in retail food prices is due to a variety of factors, including higher commodity prices as well as increases in packaging costs.
Average household spending on food was $144 a week in 2021, up from $113.50 in 2019, a time when inflation was relatively low and more people were eating at restaurants, she said.
“Grocers are committed to keeping prices as low as they possibly can while keeping shelves stocked and their doors open,” she said.