Supermarket prices for fresh fruits and vegetables moderated during April after spiking higher earlier this year when freezing weather killed crops in Arizona, Florida and Mexico, leading to shortages of some products.
Average retail fruit and vegetable prices rose 3.1% nationwide in April compared with the same month in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly Consumer Price Index report May 13. April’s price increase marked a slowdown from a 4.2% jump in March and was the smallest year-over-year increase since December.
Compared to March, fruit and vegetable prices on average fell 1.5% in April, the first monthly decline since August.
Fresh produce prices eased as recently harvested crops helped replenish supplies. Earlier this year, the first killing freeze since the 1950s struck southern Sinaloa state, Mexico’s primary supplier of winter vegetables, reducing volumes of tomatoes, bell peppers and other crops. Unusually cold weather also hurt lettuce crops in Arizona and citrus groves in Florida.
Produce prices are expected to remain higher compared with recent years, contributing to accelerating food inflation that’s pushing consumers’ grocery bills higher. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast, fresh fruit and vegetable prices will rise 3.5% to 4.5% in 2011, the biggest increase since 2008.
Fresh vegetable prices in April were up 4.5% from the same month in 2010, while fresh fruits rose 1.6%. In March, fresh vegetable prices surged 9.8% from a year earlier, the biggest gain since September 2008.
Among specific products, field-grown tomatoes averaged $2.27 a pound nationwide at retail last month, up from $2.09 in March and up from $2.13 in April 2010, according to the bureau. Iceberg lettuce averaged $1.06 a pound, down from $1.28 in March but up from 83 cents in April 2010.
Navel oranges averaged 93 cents a pound, down 3 cents from March but up 6 cents from April 2010.
A broader price index for food consumed at home last month rose 0.5 percent in April after a 1.1-percent jump in March, according to the CPI report. Over the past 12 months, food at home prices rose 3.9 percent.
While food and energy costs have increased this year, overall inflation remains tame.
Excluding food and energy, the CPI, which tracks costs for apparel, medical care and other goods and services, rose 0.2% in April from March. Compared with April 2010, the CPI excluding food and energy rose 1.3%.