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Already High Grocery Prices Expected To Rise Again

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A year after the pandemic disrupted supply chains and emptied grocery store shelves, Utahns are still feeling pain in the checkout line as food prices continue their upward march.

“I’ve definitely seen a change on meat,” said South Jordan resident Lachalla Haroldsen. “The total at the end has gone up quite a bit.”

Food prices jumped 3.9% during 2020, which is “the largest over-the-year increase since 2011,” said the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ yearend review.

“Especially the meat prices are going up,” said Gloria Gish of West Jordan. “So we don’t eat as much meat as we used to.”

The “food at home” portion of the most recent Consumer Price Index increased 3.3% over the last 12 months ending in March, with all six major grocery categories showing an increase over that time period.

Robert Spendlove, Zions Bank senior economist, said supply chain issues, increases in the cost of raw goods and rising gas prices were all putting pressure on the final price at the cash register.

“Specifically meat, fish and eggs are up 5.4%,” Spendlove said about the latest Consumer Price Index.

Spendlove said inflation was kicking in.

“The increases that we are seeing now really are a result of the pandemic — it’s a result of the economy kind of coming back,” he said. “Goods-producing companies have started to give the signal, ‘Get ready, these prices are going up.’”

The big question now, Spendlove explained, is how long this higher inflation will stick around.

“It is something that we need to be watching really closely,” he said. “Because one of the worst things that we could have is that runaway inflation that we saw in the 1970s.”

There are ways for Utah families to protect their grocery budgets.

“I would much rather spend extra money on something fun with my family than on groceries,” said Shandra Madsen, the owner and founder of Deals to Meals.

Since 2007, Madsen has been helping people across the country save money on food and plan healthy meals.

“If people are willing to put in the work, they can save a lot of money,” she said.

The pandemic accelerated some bad shopping habits, Madsen said. With the popularity of curbside pickup and delivery, we’re not paying as much attention to sales.

“If you want the very best deal on groceries and to save the most money, you have to kind of do it the old-fashioned way,” she said.

Her strategy revolves around tracking what’s called the loss leaders at grocery stores.

“They’re the really great deals that get the people into the store,” Madsen explained.

The sales are normally published in the middle of the week, she said. Madsen’s website tracks and shares those sales.

“We take those really great deals in our area and then create a meal plan,” she said.

The goal is to pounce on chicken, beef, dairy, produce and other expensive staples when they are on sale and stock up.

By never paying full price for the basics, Madsen said families can keep grocery budgets around $100 a person per month.

“The more you can just stick to those items that are the really great deal, you can save up to probably 70% on your groceries,” she said.

Another tip from Madsen: only visit the warehouse clubs once a month and stick to the products that rarely go on sale.

Whether you use her system or not: there are other ways to save, like using digital coupons, downloading a smartphone shopping app, stocking up during case-lot sales, shopping a variety of stores, buying generic brands and simply sticking to your shopping list.

“Just have a game plan,” Madsen said.

Starting in mid-June, Madsen plans to open the deal-tracking portion of her website for free as a way to give back and help as many people as possible save money on groceries.

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