Rising Food Prices: Some Relief Seen for 2012

Last Updated Oct 31, 2011 10:44 PM EDT

Food prices are rising sharply after a couple of years of relatively tepid increases but 2012 should offer consumers at least a little relief, according to a new forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Prices for all food -- including food purchased at grocery stores and restaurant meals -- are projected to increase 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent for all of 2011, according to a new USDA briefing.

That's essentially in line with the current overall rate of inflation. As of September the consumer price index was up 3.9 percent year-over-year, driven by higher food and energy costs.

Food-at-home prices (grocery stores) are forecast to rise 4 percent to 5 percent in 2011, while food-away-from-home prices (restaurants) are expected to increase 3 percent to 4 percent.

"Although food price inflation was relatively weak for most of 2009 and 2010, cost pressures on wholesale and retail food prices due to higher food commodity and energy prices, along with strengthening global food demand, have pushed inflation projections upward for 2011," the USDA said in a statement.

In better news, food price inflation for most items is expected to slow in 2012 -- in some cases sharply.

Prices for beef, pork, eggs and dairy products, for example, are all projected to rise at a much slower rate next year. See the table below:

However, on the other side of the supermarket aisle, prices for cereals, bakery products, poultry and processed fruits and vegetables are forecast to rise more rapidly in 2012, according to USDA projections.

And even if next year offers some slowdown in rising food costs, prices will still increase at an uncomfortable rate -- at least when compared to what consumers are accustomed to seeing.

"For 2012, food price inflation is expected to abate from 2011 levels but is projected to be slightly above the historical average for the past two decades," the USDA said.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0.
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