Produce prices fall as food inflation eases

12/22/2011 10:51:00 AM
Bruce Blythe

Supermarket prices for fresh fruits and vegetables fell in November, the second consecutive monthly drop, leading a recent deceleration in retail food inflation that’s still on track to post among the largest increases over the past decade, government data showed.

Average retail fresh fruit and vegetable prices fell 1.2% last month from October levels, according to updated Consumer Price Index data released Dec. 16 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. October prices were down 2.7% from September.

Compared with November 2010, fresh fruit and vegetable prices were up 3.8% and for the first 11 months of this year posted average year-over-year increases of 4.8%, putting the category on a pace for the biggest annual increase since a 5.2% jump in 2008.

Fruit and vegetable prices fell in recent months amid increased production of apples, pears and other crops. Prices for many items surged earlier this year after cold weather that cut production of tomatoes, oranges and other crops. More recently, apple supplies have risen over 2010 levels in part because of a strong crop from Michigan.

Among specific products, red delicious apples averaged $1.32 a pound nationwide, down from $1.41 in October but up from $1.23 in November 2010, according to the updated Consumer Price Index data. Navel oranges averaged $1.14 a pound, down from $1.39 in October and down from $1.20 a year earlier.

Iceberg lettuce averaged 96.1 cents a pound, up from 91.5 cents in October but down from 96.5 cents a year earlier. Field-grown tomatoes averaged $1.52 a pound, up from $1.47 a month earlier and little-changed from a year earlier.

For the full year, fresh produce inflation is expected to rise 3.5% to 4.5% in 2011 and increase another 3% to 4% in 2012, according to a USDA forecast. Prices rose 0.6% last year after falling 4.6% in 2009.

Broader CPI measures showed costs for food eaten at home fell 0.1% last month compared with September, the first month-over-month decline since June 2010, according to the Labor Department. The decline reflected lower prices for most food categories, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

Compared with November 2010, the food at home index was still up 5.9% and for the full year was still on track for the biggest increase since 2008.

Note: National Editor Tom Karst contributed to this report.



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