USDA: Rise in food prices accelerates

An 11 percent surge in beef prices and 21 percent for citrus fruits lead the way in food inflation, which should see a 2.5 to 3.5 percent bump this year, the Agriculture Department said Friday

Food prices rose just 1.4 percent in 2013, compared to the average 2.8 percent rise annually since 1990, but a surge in perishable commodities means that 2014 inflation will be greater.

For certain products, the price rise has been much greater.

Beef was 11.1 percent more expensive in April than 12 months earlier. The surge in prices — driven by a declining U.S. cattle herd and rising exports — also drove pork and seafood prices higher as consumers sought alternatives.

“The droughts in Texas and Oklahoma [have] worsened somewhat in the last month, providing further complications to the beef production industry,” the Department of Agriculture said. “On average, more retail beef prices are at record highs, even after adjusting for inflation.”

The outlook for beef and veal is a 5.5 to 6.5 percent increase over 2014. 

An outbreak of citrus greening in Florida combined with a lingering winter freeze in California has driven citrus prices up 21.3 percent over the year ending in April.

Good news for consumers comes in the form of slow growth in the cost of sugar and nonalcoholic beverages. They are set to grow by 1 to 2 percent and 1.5 to 2.5 percent respectively.  

Vegetable prices are down 2.1 percent.

The new food data comes as Congress is squabbling about whether to raise the federal minimum wage and whether to fast track European and Asia-Pacific trade deals meant to ease agricultural exports.