Fresh Food

Wholesale Food Prices Ease a Bit After a Bruising Year

Producer prices for beef, pork and fruits and vegetables declined in December
apples and pears at grocery store
Photograph: Shutterstock

Food producer prices soared nearly 13% in 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Jan. 13 in its final look at wholesale prices for the year.

At the end of a tumultuous 2021, prices edged down for select commodities, including beef and pork, but price surges earlier in the year meant that several grocery categories closed 2021 with wholesale prices 15% or 20% higher (or more) than they were a year ago.

Producer prices for beef and veal dropped 8.6% in December from the month before but were up almost 29% on the year. Fresh and dry vegetable prices fell 14.7% on the month but were 20% higher than at the end of 2020. Elsewhere in fresh produce, fresh fruit and melon prices dropped 5.5% in December but moved up almost 17% for the year. And shortening and cooking oil prices slipped 4.2% in December but closed 2021 34.4% higher than they were 12 months prior. 

On Jan. 12, the BLS reported that food prices at retail were up 6.5% year over year in December as overall consumer prices surged 7% on the year—the biggest spike in inflation in nearly 40 years.

2021's biggest gainers on the wholesale prices side within food were eggs—with prices up 47% in December alone, pushing eggs' full-year price jump to nearly 82%—grains (up 43.6%), and meats. Processed chicken and turkey prices (up 29% and 45% year over year, respectively) surged more throughout 2021 than beef prices did. Seafood's price growth moderated in December, but wholesale seafood prices still stood 30% higher at the close of the year than they did at the end of 2020.

Every final-demand food category tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics saw prices rise in 2021. Moreover, the smallest year-over-year price increases were not-miniscule climbs of 2.6% for roasted coffee and 3.2% for frozen specialty foods.

For all final-demand goods and services (including final-demand foods), prices rose 9.7% during the year, boosted by a 31.4% climb in wholesale energy prices. The producer prices spike in 2021 was "the largest calendar-year increase since data were first calculated in 2010," the BLS noted.

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