COSTLY TOMATOES PUSH GROCERY BILLS HIGHER
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A sharp spike in tomato prices this month pushed the average cost of 20 basic market basket items 1.4 percent higher, according to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey. Survey results, which were collected by volunteer shoppers Jan. 1-8, showed the market basket averaged $44.93 in January, up 63 cents from last month.
Soaring tomato prices offset savings on pork, beef, poultry and dairy products. Across the state, tomatoes averaged $2.66 a pound, up 97 cents from a month ago. Late-season hurricanes, which damaged much of Florida's winter tomato crop are blamed for the increase. Florida agriculture officials say prices should begin to retreat later this month as more fields come into production.
At the meat counter, Alabama shoppers enjoyed savings on beef, pork and poultry products. January's best buy was T-bone steak, which averaged $7.58 a pound, down 32 cents. Chuck roast also was less expensive at $2.92 a pound, down 6 cents, but ground beef prices increased 12 cents to $2.26 a pound. Shoppers who prefer "The Other White Meat" enjoyed savings of 19 cents per pound on pork chops, which averaged $3.22. Boston butts also were a good buy at $1.50 a pound, down 16 cents, while bacon was up 8 cents to $3.42 a pound. Whole fryers were a penny higher at $1.04 a pound, but chicken breasts were down 7 cents to $1.79 a pound. Eggs averaged $1.19 a dozen, up 16 cents.
Aside from tomatoes, shoppers found moderate, seasonal increases on most produce items. Red potatoes averaged 65 cents a pound, up a nickel; sweet potatoes were 4 cents higher at 75 cents a pound; and lettuce increased to $1.25 a head, up 7 cents.
In the dairy case, milk was less expensive at $2.05 a half-gallon, down 6 cents, and ice cream was a nickel cheaper at $3.08 a half-gallon. Bakers also could find bargains on butter, which averaged $2.91 a pound, down 11 cents.
Regional reports collected throughout the state showed the market basket averaged $43.12 in northwest Alabama, $45.31 in the central counties, $45.34 in south Alabama and $45.88 in the northeast corner of the state.