Food price increases began to accelerate in the Washington area in February after a brief winter pause, the Labor Department reported yesterday.
Grocery store food prices rose l.l percent in the metropolitan area last month after dropping 0.1 percent in January.
During the second half of 1980 local food prices advanced at an average rate of 1.4 percent a month. But over the winter, food inflation eased off. The February increase for this area was well above the national average rise in food and drink prices of 0.3 percent during the month.
The Department of Agriculture reaffirmed yesterday that it expects food prices to climb more sharply this year. There has been a recent "working off" of overweight beef cattle. Ralph Parlett of the Agriculture Department's Economics and Statistics Service said yesterday. This has led to cheaper prices for meat while the cattle are coming to market but will be followed by a tighter market and higher prices, he said.
Retail food prices overall are expected to rise by between 10 percent and 15 percent during 1981 as a whole, the department has been saying since last fall. In 1980 food prices across the nation climbed by 8.6 percent.
Last month's increase in local grocery food prices came as fruits and vegetables jumped by 6 percent, following a drop of 5 percent in January. The Florida freeze last month served to push up the prices of fruit and vegetables.
Washington stores also recorded higher prices for cola and other carbonated drinks last month and for frozen prepared food and sweets. Moving in the opposite direction were beef, egg and flour prices. Dairy product prices were also down by 0.4 percent in the month, after a rise of 1.6 percent in January.
The index covering wage earners in the Washington area only, rather than for all urban consumers, showed a 1.5 percent increase between January and February, the Labor Department report said. Prices for fruits, vegetables, cheese and frozen prepared food for these consumers rose while beef and floor prices dropped.
The administration is predicting a few more months of poor inflation figures, followed by an improvement in the trend which will last into 1982 and beyond, under the impact of the president's program, say administration officials.