WASHINGTON -- Overall U.S. food inflation will remain near the historic norm in 2014, even as prices for meat and seafood are pushed higher by disease and widespread drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Friday.
Prices for shelf-stable and processed items made by companies such as General Mills (GIS) and Kraft Foods Group (KRFT) are relatively flat.
"It appears that supermarkets are maintaining minimal price inflation on packaged food products, possibly in an effort to keep prices competitive in light of rising cost pressures for most perishable items," the USDA said.
But drought conditions in California and other states could further drive up prices of fresh produce and beef, the USDA warned.
The agency forecast wholesale pork prices to jump by 10 percent to 11 percent in 2014, hurt by declining supplies after a virus has killed some 7 million piglets in the past year.
Wholesale beef prices are forecast to jump by 8 percent to 9 percent in 2014, although rising imports are helping to offset some of the decline in domestic supplies.
Food inflation, which includes items bought in grocery stores and in restaurants, is seen at 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent this year and then subsiding to 2 percent to 3 percent in 2015, the USDA said in its first forecast for the new year. Since 1990, grocery store prices have risen by an average of 2.8 percent per year.
The agency noted a recent jump in vegetable prices but said it was too soon to tie the move to the severe drought in California, the largest U.S. grower of fruits and vegetables.
"The ongoing drought in California could potentially have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy and egg prices, and drought conditions in Texas and Oklahoma could drive beef prices up even further," the USDA said.
Fresh fruit prices have risen 5.8 percent in the year through June compared with a year-ago, though prices fell 4.1 percent in June, reflecting a decline in citrus prices and a seasonal shift to summer fruits.
The latest weekly drought monitor from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows much of California in an extreme or exceptional drought, the two most severe categories. Pockets of Texas are also in exceptional drought.
U.S. fish and seafood prices were forecast to rise by 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent this year, up from last month's forecast of a 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent gain.
"In general, fish and seafood prices have been climbing due to decreased supplies of certain species and increased consumer demand, as other meats have become more expensive," the USDA said.
12 Ways to Save Money on Food
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This advice applies to adults and kids alike. Plan out your shopping list before you head to the grocery store so you’re not tempted by impulse buys, and let any children along for the ride know that you plan on sticking with that list. Small expenditures add up to big money, so try to avoid giving in to any last-minute requests.
If your children continue to insist that you purchase their requested items, then ask them to bring their own piggy bank money. Remind your children they are only allowed to pick something they can afford. It's good practice for grown-up budgeting.
You might not have 20 hours a week to scour multiple publications for the best deals, but if you focus on searching for online coupons, you'll end up saving just as much. Search online for products with the word "coupon" afterward. For instance, if you're looking for Cascade dish soap, search for "Cascade dish soap coupons."
To make sure that you don't waste money on impulse buys, schedule your shopping around paydays. The day or day after you get paid should be your shopping day. Before you go shopping, make a list and make sure it has everything you'll need until the next shopping day on it. Now make a commitment to yourself that you will make what you're going to purchase last until the next shopping day.
Stocking your freezer with frozen meals can help you save money on lunch, since they cost just about $5 each. It can even be a healthier option because they help you practice portion control. Just make sure you're purchasing meals that have no preservatives, and watch out for sodium levels.
Don't waste your time making a sack lunch every day. Instead, prepare a week's worth of lunches on Sunday, and your body will thank you for the extra 10 to 30 minutes of sleep you'll gain each night. If you cook one big meal on Sunday, make sure it's easy to change up throughout the week. Chicken, rice and vegetables all cook quickly and taste great with different sauces and cheeses.
Most families throw away so much food on a weekly basis. A better idea is to turn your dinner leftovers into a lunchtime feast. Apps like BigOven help you use your leftovers to make yummy, new dishes. All you have to do is enter the ingredients you have, and the app will show you different recipe options for your leftovers. You'll save money using food that would have been thrown out.
If you know you have $400 to spend per month on your food budget, that's roughly $100 a week. Whether you shop once or twice per week or use cash or credit doesn't matter as long as you stay within your spending limits. Just be sure to only spend the amount you allotted per week.
Keep your shopping list in a set location so all members of the household can access it. Write estimated prices of the items you are going to buy next to each item on the checklist. It can serve a dual purpose as a price book you can use to guess how much you will spend.
If you've ordered from the kids menu at a restaurant recently, then you know how big the meals are – they're almost as big as meals for adults, and they can cost up to $10 each. If you have multiple children, an easy way to cut down on this expense is to have them share a meal. Not only does this lower the cost of feeding everyone, but it also cuts down on food waste.
Most stores are open late, and without the distraction of announcements, people and maybe even your kids, you can have your own Zen moment. When you are clearheaded, you're more likely to zone in on what you really need and leave out what you really don't. Plus, it's easier to give the cashier coupons without causing any delays for the people in line behind you.
We are a society consumed by all sorts of apps, but if you want to grocery shop, save money and still be lazy, let Favado, an app created by Savings.com, do the work for you. The app will tell you about items on sale from different stores, and if there is a store coupon or manufacturer coupon, it will also let you know that too. (Of course, you can just use it to scan the weekly ads to keep things simple.) And if you're already glued to your smartphone, it's easy to incorporate into your shopping routine.