If you've ever thought about becoming a vegetarian, now might be the perfect time.
Food prices at the grocery store have shot up across the board during the pandemic as demand has surged, and labor shortages and other disruptions have added costs at nearly every stage of the food supply chain.
Prices for meats and fish have led the way so far this year, with pork prices rising the most at an average of 5.4%. Fresh vegetables rose the least of any category, up an average of 0.5%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For all of 2021, food-at-home prices are expected to jump between 2.5% and 3.5%, according to the USDA. That's on top of a 3.5% increase last year, which was the biggest bounce since 2011. (Prices actually fell in 2016 and 2017).
On the demand side, "We went from an eating culture to a cooking culture at home," said Heather Garlich, spokeswoman for The Food Industry Association, based in Arlington, Virginia. "Demand doubled overnight. Demand has not abated."
Average household spending at the grocery store shot up to $161 a week at the height of the pandemic lockdowns last year, and it is now holding steady at $143, according to the food association. In 2019, before the pandemic struck, average weekly spending was $113.50.
The increase in spending is a reflection of both more eating at home and higher prices.
Prices for meats, poultry and fish are projected to climb between 4% and 5% this year, with pork prices up between 6% and 7% and beef and veal up 5% to 6% as producers contend with higher feed costs, increased demand and an unreliable supply chain. (Wholesale prices for meat and poultry are expected to jump even more, in the range of 16% to 20%).
In 2020, the biggest grocery price increases were for beef and veal, up 9.6%; pork, up 6.3%, and poultry, up 5.6%, the USDA said.
As of August, more Americans (50%) were concerned about rising food prices than items being out of stock (36%), Garlich said.