Spending

A gallon of milk costs a lot more this year — here's how inflation affects the rest of your grocery bill

"Beef price ... if we're looking at the past month, it's jumped between 3% and 6%."

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This year, your grocery store budget might not stretch as far as it usually does. Due to inflation, staples like milk, meat, and produce have all risen in price. For some products, prices will continue to be high the rest of the year, experts say.

"Supply chains are largely inefficient at this time," Isaac Olvera, agricultural economist for ArrowStream, a supply chain management software company, told NBC News in explanation. "We're still dealing with fallout from the pandemic."

Although larger grocery chains have the ability to absorb inflation-caused pricing more than small, local grocers, you'll likely see markups wherever you shop, says William McGuire, an associate professor of economics at the University of Washington Tacoma.

Even Costco is feeling the effects, Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said on an earnings call, according to GroceryDive.com. Overall, prices are up between 2.5% and 3.5%, he said. Meat prices are up 7% year over year and beef prices, specifically, have been up as high as 20% in the last month.

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Here's what products you should expect to pay more for when grocery shopping.

Milk, beef, produce prices are all higher

"Some prices are returning to the levels they were before the pandemic," says McGuire. "Where we're seeing movement [in price] is in meats and fresh fruits and vegetables."

Fruit and vegetable prices have increased 2.9% over the last year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The spike in meat prices has been most significant over the last few months. Although prices in May were only 0.1% higher than they were last May, they were 1.6% higher than they were in April 2021. Bacon, for example, was on average $5.78 per pound in February and has been steadily increasing in price every month since. In May, it was $6.35 per pound.

Beef is one of the hardest hit categories, McGuire says. The beef consumer price index increased 2.3% from April to May, according to BLS data. In January, ground beef was, on average, $3.97 per pound and in May it was $4.10 per pound. In May of 2019 it was $3.82 per pound.

Where we're seeing movement [in price] is in meats and fresh fruits and vegetables.
William McGuire
associate professor of economics, University of Washington Tacoma

Consumers will likely see increased beef prices in stores until the end of the year. "Beef price is a bit down from where it was 12 months ago, but if we're looking at the past month, it's jumped between 3% and 6%," McGuire says. "That's a pretty substantive increase and I believe we can expect that to continue."

The increase has to do with the price of corn rising, McGuire says: "Right now, corn is the most expensive that it's been in about a decade, so that's an important part of finishing cattle. Before they get to the slaughterhouse, they'll be bulked up with corn."

The price of milk — which is also related to the cost of cattle feed, McGuire says — has shot up significantly, too, according to BLS data. In May, a gallon of whole milk was $3.50 on average. In May 2019 it was $2.96 and in May 2020 it was $3.21.

Some chains are trying to stand out from competition by keeping prices low, despite inflation. Walmart, for example, had 30% more discounts the first quarter than it did at the same time last year, according to CNBC reporting. The mix of merchandise helps the retail giant keep prices low, according to CEO John Furner.

Odds are these changes are temporary, so try not to overreact, McGuire says: "Everyone expects this inflation to be moderated by the end of the year. Now is not the time to panic."

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