Grocers See High Vegetable Prices Easing Soon
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A nearly 50 percent increase in vegetable prices that has sent shoppers reeling in the produce aisle should ease in the coming weeks as farmers send grocers more tomatoes, lettuce and other crops.
Vegetable prices shot up last month after cold weather in the southern U.S. and Mexico destroyed much of the winter vegetable supply, the Commerce Department said. From tomatoes in Florida to lettuce in Arizona, fruit and vegetables became frostbitten, and prices rose for the produce farmers could save.
Costs should be coming down soon, though, as crops farmers planted after the winter freezes start to reach stores, said growers, grocers and analysts. Grocers also typically switch this time of year to crops planted for spring, said Jody Shee, an analyst for the market research firm Mintel.
"Unless there are any other weather issues, the prices should bounce back pretty soon," she said.
The Iowa-based Hy-Vee supermarket chain, which has more than 230 stores in the Midwest, already is seeing cheaper prices for lettuce, broccoli and other vegetables, spokeswoman Ruth Comer said. But tomatoes and cucumbers, which were hit hard by cold weather in Mexico, could remain high for one more month, she said.
Vegetables imported from Mexico often offset losses in the U.S. during winter freezes, but that wasn't the case this year because the cold stretched further south than usual, said Gary Lucier, an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.
The result was the biggest one-month increase in overall food prices Americans have seen since 1974 and the steepest rise in U.S. inflation in nearly two years.
"I've been paying more on everything," said Anne Schwartz, 63, who lives west of Chicago in Winfield, Ill. "You used to be able to walk in there and get three avocados for a dollar."
Now, avocados cost $1 each at her local grocery, she said.
Although shoppers are paying more, farmers in the Sun Belt say they haven't been getting rich. Most lost at least some of their crops, and they said the higher prices have just been helping make up for it.
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