Jan 30, 2023 - Economy

Food inflation slowed down last month — but the relief may not last

Data: BLS. Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The meteoric rise in food prices slowed slightly in December, per a new Axios analysis — but prices were still up more than 10% year-over-year, as groceries and restaurants gobbled up a larger-than-usual amount of Americans' spending.

Why it matters: Grocery bills are one of the most powerful ways in which many Americans experience inflation.

  • As the cost of eggs, milk, and other staples rise, families living on the financial edge are left making difficult choices about what to buy — and what to skip.
  • For restaurants and other businesses, higher food prices can leave owners with the difficult choice of swallowing the costs or passing them on to customers.

By the numbers: Nationwide, the cost of all foods was up 10.4% year-over-year in December, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • The cost of food prepared at home was up 11.8%, while food consumed at restaurants was up 8.3%.
  • Those are all down just slightly from recent highs set towards the end of 2022.

Zoom in: Dallas, the Twin Cities, and Baltimore are suffering some of the country's highest food price inflation rates, at 14.1%, 13.7%, and 13.5%, respectively.

  • By comparison, food prices are up 7% in Washington, D.C., 7.7% in Chicago, and 8.8% in Miami.

Driving the news: COVID-related supply chain disruptions, climate change, and higher energy costs are just some of the factors contributing to higher food prices.

  • Russia's war in Ukraine, a major wheat producer, continues to affect the global supply — and thus price — of that key foodstuff.
  • The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, is under increasing pressure from lawmakers and advocacy groups to investigate whether egg producers are manipulating prices.

The intrigue: Some businesses have noticed that while consumers may gripe about higher costs, they're willing to pony up, as the New York Times recently reported — disincentivizing them from bringing prices back down to Earth.

The big picture: Rising prices aren't just changing the kinds of food Americans are buying, as Axios' Emily Peck recently reported — they're forcing some families to buy less food entirely.

  • "People are starting to think about what they truly need — and what can wait," Emily wrote.

What we're watching: There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon.

  • Wholesale egg prices, for instance, are beginning to drop, Axios' Kelly Tyko reports. Retail prices usually follow.

The bottom line: Many of the underlying economic and political factors affecting food prices persist, making it all but impossible to predict what your grocery spending might look like this year.

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