Grocery store price in the Washington area rose 0.3 percent from September to October, after a decrease of 1.1 percent the previous month, the Labor Department reported yesterday.
Despite the resumption of a general inflationary trend that has seen area food store prices jump about 12 percent in the past year, the rate of increase here last month was only half the national average rise of 0.6 percent.
"Significant price increases" for such basic food staples as ground beef, most pork items, milk, bread, and most fresh vegetables accounted for higher supermarket bills last month, Labor Department said.
In many cases, according to shoppers interviewed yesterday, price increases for such products have caused them to search for cheaper substitutes.
"I get mad all the time when I come in here and look at the prices," said Nell Holland, a mother of six who lives in Northeast Washington and who was waiting in the checkout lane at Safeway's store at 3941 Minnesota Ave. NE.
"The way the prices are going, you have to do without a lot of things," she said. "I can't afford to have meat as often as I used to, I got to pay rent. To eat you just gotta pinch."
Specifically, the Holland household is eating meat only twice a week, and "a big roast beef is out of the question." Holland also said her family is eating more beans, cornbread, hot dogs and spaghetti.
"Hamburger used to be reasonable," said Margaret Robinson, a Southeast resident who shops for a family of nine.
"Now, it's almost as expansive as chicken . . . I have had to use quite a bit of starches lately, more potatoes than usual."
"I have to let a lot of things slide," added Robinson, who was shopping at Giant Food's store at 394 Minnesota Ave. NE. "These prices are ridiculous."
Although spokesmen for Giant and Safeway, the area's two largest food chains, said they have seen little over-all change in customer food-buying habits during the past year of renewed price inflation, a D.C. government official said there appears to be less consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and more relatively inexpensive starches.
Natalie Zetter, an official of the Department of Human Resources' supplemental food program, said many people "are not getting all the nutrients they need. The trend (oward substitutions) has been going on for a while. When people have limited monies, they tend to (substitute) for other things."
Some middle-to-low-income consumers have trouble identifying less expensive foods with high nutritional values. Zetter said. She said vegetable combinations provide good protein sources and noted that in the local Spanish-speaking community, there has been increased consumption of rice and beans, which she recommended. In addition, she forecast higher sales of peanut butter as a relatively cheap source of good protein value.
Last month, average prices for some food products actually declined here including most fresh fruit, cola and other cubonated drinks, fresh whole chickens, fish and seafoods, potatoes and eggs.
Safeway spokesman Therman Statom said many consumers appear to be less loyal to brand names than in the past and are searching for the best bargains.
According to government forecasts, food prices will continue to rise - especially meat prices. The end result may be less food on the table for many Washington families during the forthcoming holiday season.
"At Thanksgiving, you usually have hog chitterlings, but this year I couldn't afford it . . . I only had turkey," said Holland." If you get a ham for the holidays, you can't get a chicken, too. Lord, no, you don't have any leftovers to throw away."