There’s one question on shoppers’ minds at grocery stores these days: When did everything get so expensive?
Persistent inflation has hit everything from medical bills to rent prices to shopping carts. Consumers have had to contend with double-digit percentage increases in staples like eggs, milk, and bread that don’t seem to be abating any time soon.
Across the board, “food at home” prices climbed 13.5 percent from August 2021 to August 2022, the biggest annual hike in more than four decades, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index. A number of supply-chain factors have contributed to this sticker shock, including the war in Ukraine, high diesel fuel prices, and labor shortages.
“Food price inflation had been low for a number of decades, and so it’s a surprise to people to have it be high for a stretch,” said Parke Wilde, an agricultural economist at Tufts University. “People monitor food price inflation in part because it has to do with prices that they know well by memory from the supermarket.”
So how much has your half-gallon of milk actually increased, in dollars and cents? What about that jar of peanut butter?
We wanted to see how food prices from the Before Times — i.e., 2019 — stack up to prices now. We tracked down Boston-area grocery store receipts from Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, and Star Market from three years ago, found eight staple items that had seen a range of price jumps, and checked those same stores’ currently listed prices (only the potatoes reflect a sale price). Here’s the breakdown:
We evaluated the prices of bananas, peanut butter, and milk from Stop & Shop; yogurt, turkey breast, and bread from Whole Foods; and eggs and russet potatoes from Star Market.
As the graph shows, price increases by item have run the gamut, and it’s difficult to pinpoint why each item has increased at the rate it has.
Take the Applegate oven-roasted turkey breast from Whole Foods, which saw a 13 percent increase over the past three years. Not only has livestock feed surged in price (impacting all animal products, like milk and eggs), but an outbreak of avian flu has impacted millions of turkeys around the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hampering supply just months before Thanksgiving.
Or consider the half-loaf of French bread from Nashoba Brook Bakery, also sold by Whole Foods, which went up by 10 percent since 2019. The war in Ukraine crippled the global supply of grain earlier this year — Russia and Ukraine export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat, according to the US Department of Agriculture — but other factors, like the increasing cost of the fuel that powers harvesting machinery and across-the-board labor shortages, have surely played a part.
Though there are hopes that the Fed’s interest rate hikes will help tame inflation, it’s unclear when that will be reflected in consumers’ grocery store bills.
Even though food and fuel prices are notoriously volatile, Wilde says he doesn’t see any huge relief coming soon.
“There’s a number of reasons why there’s going to be constraints on food production for some time to come, and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see food prices stay high,” said Wilde.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the percent increase for turkey and the 2022 price for eggs.