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March 20, 2009   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
March 20, 2009

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama shoppers could find bargains on every aisle this month as the average cost of 20 basic market basket items fell 1.9 percent. According to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey, the market basket averaged $52.71 the first week of March, down $1 from last month.

Among the best buys was milk, which finally began responding to a drop in wholesale prices that has cut farmers' paychecks by 50 percent since last summer. At Alabama supermarkets, a half-gallon of whole milk averaged $2.94, down 19 cents. American Farm Bureau Federation Economist Allison Specht said the steep drop in dairy prices could be felt by farmers for months to come.

"The financial condition of consumers has changed domestic food consumption patterns, and dairy is feeling the negative effects of this trend," Specht said. "Exports had insulated the dairy industry from feeling losses in away-from-home demand, but this is no longer the case."

Other dairy products in the Alabama food price survey showed slight to moderate decreases this month. Ice cream and cottage cheese were both down a penny to $4.13 a half-gallon and $2.64 a pound, respectively. Butter prices, however, fell 13 cents to $3.66 a pound.

In the meat case, prices were mixed in March as shoppers enjoyed savings on bacon, ground beef and roasts while paying more for chops and steaks. Bacon was a dime cheaper at $4.03 a pound; pork chops were up 4 cents to $3.30 a pound, and Boston butts were up 11 cents to $1.76 a pound. Meanwhile, ground beef was down 16 cents to $2.40 a pound, and chuck roasts weighed in at $3.42 a pound, down 8 cents. T-bone steaks were up 13 cents to $8.08 a pound. Poultry products were also mixed with whole fryers falling 8 cents to $1.14 a pound while chicken breasts were up 2 cents to $2.14 a pound. Eggs were down 21 cents to $1.50 a dozen.

On the produce aisle, the best buy was tomatoes, which fell as a new crop began arriving from warmer states. The spring and summer favorite was down 15 cents to $1.51 a pound, and lettuce followed suit, dropping 11 cents to $1.42 a head. Red potatoes were 3 cents lower at 87 cents a pound, but sweet potatoes were up a penny to 92 cents a pound.

Regional reports collected by volunteer shoppers March 1-10 showed the market basket averaged $50.61 in northeast Alabama, $51.35 in the northwest corner of the state, $54.17 in the central counties and $56.03 in south Alabama.

According to a new survey conducted by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute, families are eating out less and cooking at home more. Overall weekly spending for groceries remains about the same, according to the survey, at $91 per week among respondents. How shoppers spend their weekly grocery budget has changed dramatically, with more people clipping coupons, buying only the food they need and switching to store brands from national brands.

Alabama Farmers Federation, a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, conducts the informal monthly market basket survey as a tool to reflect retail food price trends.

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