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March 20, 2001   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
March 20, 2001

Data collected from food price surveys shows retail prices have increased slightly over the past decade while the "real" cost of food has declined, when adjusted for inflation.
"Montgomery, Ala." Food remains a good value for Alabama shoppers, despite an overall increase in grocery prices during the last 10 years. An analysis of the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey shows the average cost of 20 basic market basket items increased from a low of $30.83 in May 1992 to a high of $37.30 last December. But when those same prices are adjusted for inflation, the survey reveals that consumers actually are spending much less of their disposable income on food.

According to Dr. Bob Taylor, eminent scholar for agricultural economics at Auburn University, an average market basket that cost $31.69 in January 1990 would cost $43.43 in today's dollars.

"The downward trend in food prices shows that consumers have benefited from some tremendous efficiency gains in food production during the past decade," Taylor said. Ironically, Taylor said farmers have not shared in those benefits, noting that net farm income has declined in the last 10 years, when adjusted for inflation.

For the month of March, the food price survey's market basket averaged $37.17, up six-tenths of 1 percent from February. That's an increase of $1.72 or 4.9 percent from the March 2000 total of $35.45. Detailed reports from Alabama supermarkets show meat and poultry prices were on the rise this month, while shoppers enjoyed savings on dairy products.

At the butcher's counter, increased costs for more expensive cuts pushed beef prices 2.7 percent higher. T-bone steaks led the charge at $6.44 a pound, up 40 cents. Chuck roasts, however, were a nickel cheaper at $2.27 a pound, and ground beef was a good buy at $1.54 a pound, down 8 cents.

Pork also was more expensive in March as higher prices for bacon and Boston butts more than offset savings on pork chops. Food price surveyors reported that bacon averaged $2.70 a pound, up a dime from last month, while Boston butts were $1.49 a pound, up 15 cents. Pork chops were down 17 cents at $2.56 a pound.

Meanwhile, poultry prices were 2.3 percent higher with chicken breasts selling for $1.76 a pound, up 7 cents. Prices also edged 1.1 percent higher on the produce aisle due to modest increases in the costs of tomatoes and red potatoes. Egg prices, however, were unchanged from February at 87 cents a dozen.

In the dairy case, shoppers enjoyed an overall savings of 2.2 percent as the price of butter slid 7 cents to $2.60 a pound. Ice cream also was a bargain at a cool $2.75 a half-gallon, down 14 cents. Milk prices held firm this month at $1.77 a half-gallon.

Regional reports collected from around the state March 2-9 show that the market basket averaged $36.35 in northwest Alabama, $36.93 in the central counties, $36.96 in south Alabama and $37.97 in the northeast corner of the state.

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