Food Recovery Journal

Inflated Costs and Rising Grocery Bills

May 23, 2022

It’s not your imagination: your grocery bill has gone up and food prices have risen substantially. Many Americans are feeling the squeeze of the increased costs as food prices continue to rise and food budgets are stretched to their limits.

Since the initial pandemic shutdowns in 2020, food systems globally and nationwide have struggled to adapt to disrupted production and delayed distribution. In addition to all of this, the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent international sanctions on Russia mean that some of the top wheat producers are exporting a fraction of what they used to. 

Let’s take a look at some of the consequences of these events on the U.S. food system up close. 

In 2020, food-at-home (food you purchase at a grocery store) increased in cost across all food categories by 3.5% on average. The biggest increases in cost were beef and veal, pork, and poultry, increasing at 9.6%, 6.3% and 5.6% in cost, respectively. 

This trend continued in 2021 with food prices again increasing at 3.5% on average across all food categories. Not a single category of food decreased in cost, but it’s a good time to be vegetarian! The largest difference was again beef, at a 9.3% increase. The smallest change was fresh vegetables at a 1.1% increase. 

Does it get any better in 2022? Most likely not. Looking at the current prices and food trends, the ERS predicts that food prices will still continue to rise at a similar rate in every category. The conflict in Ukraine has placed international pressure on wheat production, with farm-level wheat prices now predicted to increase between 40 and 43 percent and wholesale wheat flour prices predicted to increase between 21 and 24 percent in 2022. 

What does this mean for families dealing with food insecurity? It’s not great. The average SNAP recipient in the U.S. receives $239 per month for a household of two. That means one person is getting less than $30 a week. 

Let’s say you bring home 2 pounds of ground beef, marinara sauce, two boxes of spaghetti, a packet of deli meat, a loaf of bread, two heads of lettuce, generic cereal, and a gallon of milk. Most Americans will have maxed out their SNAP budget with that much in their grocery cart, and it’s not enough. According to the USDA’s data, the average household of two individuals between the ages of 14 to 71 spent roughly $483 on groceries in March 2022. And that doesn’t include the toiletry purchases everyone makes each trip. 

Inflation is expected to continue for a number of reasons. Ukraine and Russia produce about 30% of the world’s wheat, wheat flower, and sunflower oil, and with exports limited, the costs for these bulk items are soaring. Many products containing these ingredients are experiencing an uptick in price, and this also leads to a cost increase for animal products, as the feed these animals consume goes up in cost. To top it all off, increasing fuel prices make food transportation more costly, and the consumer ends up seeing this cost reflected in the cost of goods as well. 

That was a lot. What do we do now, knowing that grocery prices will likely just continue to increase? Aside from the common answer of sharpening your couponing skills, it’s important to use what you have! We have a list of tips for keeping food fresh and delicious on our Education page. We have blogs on reducing waste with children at home, and ways you can improve your food storage to reduce waste in your fridge and pantry.

Keep an eye out for your neighbor as well! Food insecurity can affect anyone, at any time. If you know someone experiencing food insecurity, or you yourself are struggling, call the Colorado hotline for hunger, at 855-855-4626. It’s a toll-free number with 150+ language options and can provide you with food resources and more necessary items! Our Mobile Food Markets are also up and running nearly every week, and are a great way to supplement your grocery trips. 

If you’d like to show your support for your neighbors through We Don’t Waste, check out our Get Involved page to find more ways you can help!