How many memes have you seen about the price of eggs lately? There’s the one about splurging on your valentine with an expensive gift—a few cartons of free-range—or the image of a hen carrying a tiny designer purse, to name a couple of popular posts.
The soaring price of eggs is no joke (yolk?)—egg prices were up nearly 60% year over year in December, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics—and grocery prices’ move into punchline territory in 2022 was a new phenomenon for a huge cohort of consumers who hadn’t seen at-home food inflation hit double digits in their lifetime.
Consumers adjusted to 2022’s high-and-then-higher inflation with a bevy of not-unexpected tactics: They sought out sales,skipped discretionary items more often, opted for private labels and shifted some of their spend to retailers they perceived as offering better value. What goes up must come down, though—eventually—and as 2022 wound down, inflation did ease in key fresh categories such as meat. (By December, inflation in the meat department stood at a modest 2% year over year, with retail prices for some items, including steaks and bacon, having actually nudged down since the end of 2021.)
But, notably, consumers didn’t perceive that cooldown—especially in fresh, says Parker.
“People still think (fresh) is the most expensive thing, that inflation’s out of control,” Parker says. In IRI’s December primary shopper survey, consumers called out eggs, milk, produce, meat and poultry as items where they’re noticing higher prices.
In reality, prices lately have been rising at a faster clip in the center of the store, but because staple items from the fresh perimeter go into consumers’ baskets more often than go-tos from the center store do, consumers tend to be more keenly aware of prices in fresh, says Parker.
And while consumer sentiment overall ticked up at the end of the year, according to the University of Michigan’s widely watched sentiment survey, it still hovered not far from the 30-year lows recorded earlier in 2022. IRI, in its polling of grocery shoppers in December, found 43% of respondents saying their financial situation was worse than it was a year ago, and more than one in three (37%) saying they expect to be worse off financially at the end of 2023. By contrast, 27% said they expect their financial situation to improve this year.