Summary Findings

Food Price Outlook, 2017

This page provides the following information for March 2017:

Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Food (not seasonally adjusted)

The all-items Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of economy-wide inflation, was up 0.1 percent from February to March 2017 and is 2.4 percent above the March 2016 level. The CPI for all food rose 0.2 percent from February to March, and food prices were 0.5 percent higher compared with the March 2016 level. The degree of food price inflation varies depending on whether the food was purchased for consumption away from home or at home.

  • The food-away-from-home (restaurant purchases) CPI was up 0.2 percent in March and is 2.4 percent higher than March 2016; and
  • The food-at-home (grocery store or supermarket food items) CPI rose 0.1 percent from February to March but is still 0.9 percent lower than last March.

Food-at-home prices declined overall in 2016, falling 1.3 percent below 2015 levels. This marks the first annual decline in supermarket prices since 1967. Looking at specific retail food categories, prices declined 21.1 percent for eggs, 6.3 percent for beef and veal, 4.1 percent for pork, and 2.3 percent for dairy and related products. However, not all foods declined in price—fresh fruit prices rose 2.2 percent and other foods rose 0.3 percent compared with 2015 prices.

The overall decline in retail food prices was due to several factors: increased production for many commodities, lower transportation costs as a result of deflated oil prices, and a strong U.S. dollar. A strong dollar affects domestic prices as it makes U.S. goods less desirable to foreign markets, leaving more potential exports on the domestic market.

While food-at-home prices declined in 2016, prices for food away from home increased 2.6 percent. Restaurant prices have been rising consistently month-over-month due, in part, to differences in the cost structure of restaurants versus supermarkets or grocery stores. Restaurant prices primarily comprise labor and rental costs with only a small portion going toward food. For this reason, decreasing farm-level and wholesale food prices have had less of an impact on restaurant menu prices.

ERS revises its food price forecasts if the conditions (such as the feed grain crop outlook or weather-related crop conditions) on which they are based change significantly.

Looking ahead to 2017, supermarket prices are expected to rise between 0.0 and 1.0 percent. Despite declining prices in 2016, poultry, fish and seafood, and dairy prices are expected to rise in 2017. These forecasts are based on an assumption of normal weather conditions throughout the remainder of the year; however, severe weather or other unforeseen events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts. In particular, drought conditions throughout the U.S. could have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy, and egg prices. Also, a stronger U.S. dollar could continue to make the sale of domestic food products overseas more difficult. This would increase the supply of foods on the domestic market, placing downward pressure on retail food prices.

Changes to Food Category CPI Forecasts

The food-at-home CPI is an average of individual food CPIs, weighted by their relative importance or share of consumer expenditures.

Prices for dairy products decreased 0.9 percent in March but are 0.2 percent higher than they were in March 2016. Retail milk prices have decreased month-over-month—down 0.6 percent from February to March. Retail milk prices were up year-over-year, increasing 0.6 percent. Between February and March 2017, prices for cheese, ice cream, and related products declined—prices for cheese fell 1.0 percent, and ice cream product prices were down 1.6 percent since February. Retail dairy prices declined 2.3 percent from 2015 to 2016, following global patterns. However, dairy imports have declined from very high levels in the first quarter of 2016, and exports are expected to strengthen for products with high skim-milk content (for example, nonfat dry milk and whey products). In recent months, domestic demand for most dairy products has been below previous annual levels but is expected to recover during the year. ERS expects retail dairy product prices to rise between 1.0 and 2.0 percent in 2017.

Fats and oils prices rose 0.4 percent from February to March and are up 0.1 percent since March 2016. Butter prices increased 1.6 percent from February to March, salad dressing prices rose 0.5 percent, and peanut butter prices were up 1.0 percent. ERS predicts fats and oils prices to decrease an additional 1.5 to 0.5 percent in 2017.

See Changes in Food Price Indexes, 2015 through 2017.

Key Month-Over-Month Changes in the Food CPI

Beef and veal prices increased 0.6 percent from February to March but are still 4.9 percent lower than this time last year. The increased pace of cattle slaughter, especially during the second half of 2016, coupled with increased carcass weights, has resulted in higher year-over-year beef production. This higher production and the large supplies of beef held in cold storage have resulted in downward pressure on prices throughout the cattle and beef complex. Prices of both feeder and fed cattle trended lower for most of 2016. These lower prices started to spill into the retail market around August 2016, continuing their downward spiral since then. Prices are expected to continue to decline in the near future. ERS predicts beef and veal prices to decrease an additional 2.5 to 1.5 percent in 2017.

In March, pork prices rose 2.0 percent from the previous month, largely due to a 2.5-percent increase in bacon prices, but are 0.9 percent lower year-over-year. Retail pork prices fell in 2016, largely due to ample supplies of other animal proteins available for domestic consumption. Lower beef prices are most likely adding pressure to lower pork prices. USDA forecasts a 4.9-percent increase in pork production in 2017, and large pork supplies are expected to drive retail prices down an additional 2.0 to 1.0 in 2017.

Prices for poultry rose 1.0 percent from February to March and are 0.4 percent higher than last year. Retail chicken price inflation has remained relatively low in 2017 partly due to an increase in broiler production. Furthermore, a strong U.S. dollar contributed to more chicken broilers remaining in the U.S. market which, in turn, places downward pressure on retail chicken prices. However, as the industry recovers from lower 2016 retail prices, ERS predicts prices to rise between 1.0 and 2.0 percent in 2017.

Egg prices decreased 3.6 percent from February to March and are 21.8 percent below March 2016 levels. Retail egg prices are among the most volatile retail food prices, as they can be affected by seasonal demand. There was an upswing in 2015 that was primarily due to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak, which decreased the table-egg-laying flocks by 36 million egg layers in the second quarter of 2015. In the first quarter of 2016, egg production was down due to smaller flock sizes and lower egg-laying rates per bird. As the industry recovered from this outbreak, with production close to pre-flu levels, egg prices fell 21.1 percent in 2016. ERS expects egg prices to decrease an additional 6.0 to 5.0 percent in 2017.

Prices for fresh fruits increased 1.0 percent from February to March and are down 0.5 percent compared with March 2016. ERS expects fresh fruit prices to increase 0.0 to 1.0 percent in 2017. Fresh vegetable prices fell 0.6 percent from February to March, and prices are 4.1 percent lower than March 2016. ERS expects fresh vegetable prices to decrease between 1.5 and 0.5 percent in 2017. Factors, such as a stronger U.S. dollar and low oil prices, have mitigated the effect of the drought on retail fresh produce prices throughout 2016. For more detailed information on the California drought, see California Drought: Food Prices and Consumers.

In March, prices for cereals and bakery products increased 0.2 percent compared with the previous month but are 0.4 percent lower than they were in March 2016. While prices for breakfast cereal fell 0.3 percent and retail rice prices fell 1.1 percent, prices for flour and prepared flour mixes rose 0.5 percent from February to March. Due to an increase in farm-level wheat prices and a decreased forecast of wheat imports, ERS expects cereals and bakery products prices to rise between 0.5 to 1.5 percent in 2017.

Prices for nonalcoholic beverages decreased 0.6 percent from February to March and are up 0.2 percent since March 2016. Carbonated beverage prices decreased 0.7 percent from February to March, but prices for coffee rose 0.1 percent over the same period. ERS predicts nonalcoholic beverage prices to increase 0.0 to 1.0 in 2017

Producer Price Index (PPI) for Food (not seasonally adjusted)

The Producer Price Index (PPI) is similar to the CPI in that it measures price changes over time. However, instead of measuring changes in retail prices, the PPI measures the average change in prices paid to domestic producers for their output. The PPI collects data for nearly every industry in the goods-producing sector of the economy. Of particular interest to food markets are three major PPI commodity groups—unprocessed foodstuffs and feedstuffs (formerly called crude foodstuffs and feedstuffs), processed foods and feeds (formerly called intermediate foods and feeds), and finished consumer foods. These groups give a general sense of price movements across the various stages of production in the U.S. food supply chain.

The intermediate and final demand PPIs—measures of changes in farm and wholesale prices—are typically far more volatile than their counterparts in the CPI. Price volatility decreases as products move from the farm to the wholesale sector to the retail sector. Due to multiple stages of processing in U.S. food systems, the CPI typically lags movements in the PPI. Examining the PPI is thus a useful tool in understanding what may happen to the CPI in the near future.

ERS does not currently forecast industry-level PPIs for unprocessed, processed, and finished foods and feeds, but these have historically shown a strong correlation with the all-food and food-at-home CPIs. Unprocessed foods and feeds posted a monthly increase of 3.2 percent from February to March, prices for processed foods and feeds rose 0.9 percent. and finished consumer foods rose 1.1 percent over the same period.

Inflationary pressures lessened for farm-level cattle and wholesale beef prices in 2016 and are expected to continue to be low in 2017. In March, cattle prices increased 6.9 percent but are down 8.7 percent since this time last year. Wholesale beef prices increased in March, rising 7.6 percent, and are down 10.0 percent from the previous year. ERS expects farm-level cattle prices to change between -0.5 to 0.5 percent in 2017, and wholesale beef prices are expected to decline 6.0 to 5.0 percent.

Wholesale pork prices fell 2.1 percent from February to March but are 4.3 percent higher than this time last year. Overall, pork production is higher, placing downward pressure on prices in 2016—wholesale pork prices declined 1.9 percent. However, ERS predicts wholesale pork prices to decrease 1.0 to 0.0 percent in 2017.

Prices for farm-level eggs increased 11.6 percent from February to March. Price levels are now 32.0 percent lower than March 2016 levels. Egg prices are among the most volatile of food prices, typically peaking in the fourth quarter of the year and then falling in the first quarter of the new year. In 2015, prices were also affected by HPAI, which reduced the count of table-egg-laying birds in many Midwestern and Pacific Northwestern States. As the industry recovered, farm-level egg prices decreased 59.1 percent in 2016. ERS predicts farm-level egg prices to decrease an additional 5.5 to 4.5 percent in 2017.

Farm-level soybean prices decreased 5.0 percent from February to March but are 9.7 percent above the March 2016 price level. Wholesale fats and oils prices increased on the month, rising 2.9 percent in March, and are 9.2 percent higher than March 2016 price levels. Farm-level soybean prices rose 2.8 percent in 2016 and are expected to increase an additional 3.0 to 4.0 percent in 2017. Prices for wholesale fats and oils decreased 0.8 percent in 2016, but ERS expects prices to rise 2.0 to 3.0 percent in 2017.

Farm-level fruit prices rose 0.2 percent in March and are 5.0 percent higher than in March 2016. Farm-level vegetable prices also rose in March, increasing 7.1 percent. Farm-level vegetable prices are now 5.6 percent higher than they were this time last year. Farm-level fruit prices are expected to decrease 8.0 to 7.0 percent in 2017. Farm-level vegetable prices are expected to decrease 12.0 to 11.0 percent in 2017. 

See Changes in Producer Price Indexes, 2015 through 2017.

Food Price Outlook

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Last updated: Tuesday, April 25, 2017

For more information contact: Annemarie Kuhns and David Levin

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