Washington area grocery prices, led by sharp drops in the cost of meat, fish and dairy products declined 0.2 percent in April, the Labor Department reported yesterday.
Nationally, grocery store prices rose 0.4 percent in April.
The decline in area food prices came as food inflation began to moderate nationally. Howard Hjort, chief economist at the Agriculture Department, predicted price rise in May would be even more moderate.
"We continue to find ourselves in the situation where food price increases are moderate in relation to other price increases in the economy," Hjort said. a
As summer beings, however, Hjort predicted larger increases in monthly food prices. He predicted an overall increase in 1930 food prices of 8 percent to 9 percent.
Labor Department officials said that despite the difference in the area and national food indexes last month, local food prices were tracking fairly closely to the national price trend.
Despite the April downturn, grocery prices so far this year are higher locally than they are nationally. Since the start of the year, national grocery prices have risen 1.8 percent. Locally, grocery prices have risen 2.2 percent during the same period.
In the Washington area last month, the price of meats, poultry and fish dropped 2.3 percent while the price of dairly products dropped 2.4 percent. In contrast, area fruit and vegetable prices rose 2.1 percent in April. Cereal and bakery product prices dropped 0.5 percent last month.
Hjort predicted yesterday that retail meat prices, which have been running below last year because of continued high production, probably will begin to rise in July. "We could see increases appearing in the July retail index of some significance," Hjort said.
From mid-summer on, Hjort predicted, meat prices should lead the price rise through the remainder of the year.