Here’s why your food prices keep going up

Expect to see higher prices in the last quarter of this year in a number of grocery categories. After that, some relief is likely, experts say.

In this photo taken on Aug. 12, 2021, fruit and vegetables are sold at an area grocery store in Washington, DC. A key U.S. inflation gauge continued to climb in July, as the economy bounces back from last year's downturn, according to Commerce Department data. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Before the pandemic, most people may not have thought much about where their food came from, how far it traveled or how it was produced. Certain industry phrases have underscored rising grocery bills over the past 18 months. “Turbulence and volatility.” “Unprecedented times.” But one of the biggies is “supply chain disruption.”

Food producers have struggled with shortages, bottlenecks, and transportation, weather and labor woes, all of which have caused food prices to rise. The end is not in sight: Inflation at the wholesale level climbed 8.3 percent last month from August 2020, the Labor Department reported Friday, the biggest annual gain since the department started calculating the number in 2010. Those prices are passed on to consumers: Meat, poultry, fish and eggs are up 5.9 percent over last year, and up 15.7 percent from prices in August 2019, before the pandemic.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday reported an additional overall food price increase of 0.4 percent in August compared with July, after larger increases in recent months.

Sysco, one of the nation’s biggest food distributors, showed food inflation of 10.2 percent on its most recent quarterly report, increases that are passed along to restaurants and to the restaurants’ customers in turn.

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“History shows us that price adjustments are more likely to be accepted in the market when industry-wide and broad-based input cost inflation occurs,” David Marberger, chief financial officer of Conagra Brands, one of the world’s largest food companies, said in the company’s third-quarter 2021 earnings call. “And that’s the environment we see today.”

Translation: They are paying higher prices, they are charging higher prices, higher prices are everywhere.