Grocery Stretcher

Owner Dwayne Zimmerman, at right, checks out a customer’s items at the Grocery Stretcher store along Main Street on Thursday. Zimmerman said he’s seen food prices fluctuating, with meat prices at an increase.

Renee and Tim Bennett of Bradford often spread out their grocery shopping to several area stores, and on Thursday they ended up placing orders at the Grocery Stretcher in Bradford.

They decided to get corned beef, ham, salami, provolone and butter cheese — all in spite of ever-changing food prices and the projected increases this year. The U.S. Economic Research Service is predicting supermarket prices will see normal to slightly lower than average food price inflation, increasing 2 to 3 percent.

“The prices have gotten really bad,” Renee Bennett said, pointing out to the owner of the Grocery Stretcher that her opinion is not a knock against his business. High prices can be seen all over, she indicated.

And as a way to save money, she said they eat more chicken and pasta. Prices have gone up, including food, and her husband’s salary has remained the same, she said

Prices do fluctuate, according to Grocery Stretcher owner Dwayne Zimmerman. Bread prices are stable, and the cost for milk and cheese declining. Meat prices have risen, however, he said.

It’s all about change, Zimmerman said at the store on Thursday afternoon. “They always have, always will.”

Fresh vegetables are expected to increase 2 percent and fresh fruit to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent, according to the Economic Research Service.

“With the weather last summer, it was just hard to grow crops,” said Dave Stratton at the Potter/McKean/Cameron County Farm Service Agency.

Stratton added it was difficult to harvest hay.

Meanwhile, beef and veal prices are expected to increase 4.5 to 5.5 percent this year, the Economic Research Service predicts.

“Prices remain high, as the U.S. cattle inventory is currently at a historical low,” the agency reported. “Pasture conditions have improved somewhat in the Southern Plains and Southwest but not significantly in the West. In addition, improved crop yields allow cattle producers to feed cattle longer and to hold cattle for expansion. However, signs of herd expansion at this point are anecdotal at best. Many producers are holding on to their inventory to increase live weights, as steer and heifer prices have hit record highs. Most retail beef prices, on average, are also at record highs, even after adjusting for inflation.”

This year, pork prices are expected to increase 4.5 to 5.5 percent, according to the Economic Research Service.

“Retail pork inflation is largely due to the effects of PEDv (porcine epidemic diarrhea virus) which has reduced the autumn number of hogs ready for production,” the agency reported. “However, there are some signs of industry expansion, and 2015 hog prices are expected to fall 15 percent below 2014 figures.”

Meanwhile, eggs are expected to increase 1 to 2 percent in 2015. The Economic Research Service is attributing a recent rise in retail prices are a result of eggs being broken and an increase in how many eggs are being exported.

The Economic Research Service is predicting sugar and sweets will increase 1.5 to 2.5 percent; poultry, increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent.; and dairy products with an increase of 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

Cereals and bakery products are due to increase 0.5 to 1.5 percent in 2015, according to the agency, adding many cereals, flour products and bakery items have seen a drop in prices in recent months with world wheat production at an all-time high.

All considering, the United States has cheap prices as compared to foreign countries, Stratton said, and there’s a high reliability of the quality as well.

“I believe that if farmers and ranchers have a fair playing field and the tools to help them keep their production costs down, Americans will continue to have access to the world’s safest, highest quality and most abundant food supply,” said U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.

Thompson worked on a recently enacted 2014 Farm Bill. Thompson is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and a subcommittee chairman.

“This comprehensive legislation provides our nation’s farmers and ranchers with both certainty and critical tools to help our nation meet our agricultural needs,” Thompson said. “As the bill relates to food prices, the law helps provide market certainty, allowing farmers keep their production costs down through a variety of voluntary programs.”

Thompson pointed to the example of voluntary dairy margin insurance programs with the aim of assisting farmers deal with the volatility in milk prices.

“Additionally in the Farm Bill, I support the law’s R&D initiatives that will help foster innovation and best practices,” he said.

A cost saving on the farm means the consumer will see a cost saving at the dinner table, according to Thompson.

“Perhaps one of the greatest contributing factors to food affordability is having access to an abundant energy supply. Because traditional agriculture is very energy intensive, fluctuating energy prices have direct and significant impact upon production costs,” Thompson said. “Minimizing fluctuations through an adequate supply will help prevent price increases from being passed on to consumers.”

And how consumers handle the prices comes down to planning, according to Penn State Extension nutrition adviser Marlene Johnson-Pierce.

“Spend a little time and energy making and planning a family menu” Johnson-Pierce said. “You can save a chunk of change every month simply by taking time to prepare ahead of time for your meals. Save food dollars by substituting more of your time and knowledge to make a plan for saving money.”

In fact, she suggests “shopping” at home.

“Check what you have in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards that need to be used up, and fill in your menu plan using these items first,” Johnson-Pierce said. “This is your ‘go-to’ list.”

She also suggests that individuals should serve what they enjoy eating.

“When you serve food your family likes, you avoid waste. Make a collection of economical, nutritious recipes that your family likes and serve them often,” Johnson-Pierce said.

People should also keep their schedule in mind and consider how much time one has to prepare food in the coming week.

“If it’s a laid-back week, use the extra time to make meals ahead and freeze them,” Johnson-Pierce said. “If it’s a ‘chicken-with-its-head-cut-off week,’ use some of the meals you stockpiled earlier or just keep it simple. Make sure everyone pitches in, especially if you’re having a crazy week.”

In addition, individuals should also check newspaper advertisements and see if local stores are having sales.

“As you get to know the costs of items you purchase frequently, you will be able to quickly identify true deals,” Johnson-Pierce said. “Stay away from prepackage meals. They are usually more expensive. Any time you can prepare your own recipes you save money.”

She suggests people shop with a plan and don’t shop when he or she is hungry.