Food Inflation + Tips for Saving Money

Food inflation is a troubling concern for many Americans. With food prices recently on the rise and sitting at historic highs, it’s time to take a close look at the cost of food, the factors driving these changes, and what we can do to save money at the grocery store.

Inflation and Food Prices

To understand how inflation is affecting food prices, we first need to look at inflation itself. Inflation occurs when the price of goods and services increases over a period of time. This means that the average cost of living goes up. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) explains that calculating the cost of living involves figuring out the items in a “basket” of necessary purchases—housing, food, car payments, etc. The price of that basket can then be tracked over time. The IMF says:

“The cost of this basket at a given time expressed relative to a base year is the consumer price index (CPI), and the percentage change in the CPI over a certain period is consumer price inflation, the most widely used measure of inflation.”

Inflation is commonly a broad measure, but it can be calculated for specific areas, too. This brings us to the CPI for food.

Why Are Food Prices Going Up?

The CPI for food shows a dramatic increase in food prices over the past year. In October 2022, food prices were 10.9% higher than in October 2021. For food purchased from the grocery store and supermarket, the CPI in October 2022 was 12.4% higher than in October of the previous year. This inflation in the price of food is not only due to rising inflation overall but is also the result of other factors in combination.

Increases in food prices can be partially attributed to:

  • Supply chain disruptions
  • Rising energy prices
  • Rising transportation costs
  • Climate change effects (heat, drought, extreme weather events)
  • Corporate pricing strategy

Will Food Prices Go Back Down?

The USDA reports that “food prices are expected to grow more slowly in 2023 than in 2022, but still at above historical average rates.” In 2023, grocery and supermarket food prices are predicted to increase between 2.5% and 3.5%. So, even though food inflation is expected to be moderate, it is unlikely that food prices will return to previous levels.

How To Save Money at the Grocery Store

In the face of consistently high food costs, it’s all the more crucial to know how to save money on groceries. Here are some tips:

  • Choose your store wisely. Some grocery chains, such as Grocery Outlet, offer more budget-friendly prices while still providing a range of healthy food choices. Be willing to explore other options, too, like ethnic markets, bodegas, farmers’ markets, and more.
  • Use coupons and credits. Store loyalty programs and weekly ads can be great places to find deals on essential food items. Taking advantage of these discounts can help you get more food for a cheaper price. It’s also a good idea to look into food assistance programs like CalFresh to see if you qualify.
  • Browse options carefully. Some grocery stores intentionally place the highest-priced items around eye level, where people usually look. Scan the lower shelves to make sure you’re not skipping over a better deal.
  • Check for store-brand food. Store-brand or generic-brand food items could offer a better price than name-brand products. Check for store-brand food products in the similar section as name-branded ones.

Be sure to check out all our additional tips for healthy eating on a budget!

About the SLO Food Bank

We at the SLO Food Bank believe that everyone has the right to nutritious food. That’s why we work hard to ensure access to fresh food for everyone in our community. We structure our programs in a few different ways to make fresh produce more accessible and affordable for those who need it. We also promote food assistance programs like CalFresh, while also hosting food distributions in the most rural areas of our county, where a grocery store may be more than 50 miles away.

With our network of community partners in San Luis Obispo, we strive to alleviate hunger and to build a healthier community. If you’re in the area, check out our Food Locator to find food sources near you, or support our cause through volunteer opportunities or donations, if you are able to give. With reliable access to wholesome food, we are all healthier, happier, and more productive members of our communities. Donate today to help us bring health and happiness to San Luis Obispo County!