U.S. retail food prices at the supermarket decreased slightly in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the latest American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Marketbasket Survey. The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 basic grocery items in fourth-quarter 2008 was $48.19, down 1% (49¢) from third-quarter 2008.

Apples, flour, cheddar cheese and bacon showed the largest retail price decreases. Apples dropped 29¢ to $1.51/lb.; flour 16¢ to $2.46 for a 5-lb. bag; cheddar cheese 15¢ to $4.76/lb.; and bacon 14¢/lb. to $3.37.

In addition, several survey items dropped in price by 10¢ or less: whole milk was down 10¢ to $3.82/gal.; ground chuck 9¢ to $2.86/lb.; corn oil 8¢ to $3.55 for a 32-oz. bottle; pork chops 4¢ to $3.58/lb.; sirloin tip roast 4¢ to $3.94/lb.; vegetable oil 2¢ to $3.17 for a 32-oz. bottle; and a 5-lb. bag of potatoes, down 2¢ to $3.36.

“Reversing an upward trend over the prior three quarters, ground chuck and sirloin tip roast prices decreased during the fourth quarter,” says Jim Sartwelle, AFBF economist. “These downward moves, along with the decrease in prices of our pork items, reflect weakened retail demand for these meats during the end-of-year holidays. Whole milk is the only item in the basket that is less expensive now than it was during the same time in 2007.

Despite recent declines in oil and farm-commodity prices, food prices haven’t yet declined significantly and may not for some time, Sartwelle says. But if the new year brings lower global demand for U.S. commodities, retail food prices may moderate somewhat, he adds.

As retail grocery prices have increased gradually, the share of the average food dollar for America’s farm and ranch families has dropped over time. In the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home. That figure is now just 19%, according to USDA statistics, Sartwelle says. Thus, the farmer’s share of this quarter’s $48.19 marketbasket total is just $9.16.
-- AFBF news release