Americans paid more for groceries in pandemic 2020, study finds

The USDA says grocery store food prices rose by 3.5% compared to a year before.
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Grocery shopping

Did it feel like your weekly shop cost you more last year? Well, it was.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed grocery store prices higher than usual in 2020.

Over the past 20 years, grocery store food prices have risen at a rate of about 2% a year. Last year? It was 3.5%.

The USDA's review of grocery prices found that every "food-at-home" category rose in cost except for fresh fruits, which fell by 0.8% "because of domestic and international shifts in supply and demand."

That's because the various "stay at home" orders in the likes of India, China, and Taiwan "created port delays and staffing issues in the produce supply chain." As a result, American fruit exports fell, creating more supply domestically.

By contrast, meat prices saw the largest price increases in 2020. Beef and veal was up 9.6%, pork was up 6.3%, poultry rose by 5.6% and "other meat" rose by 4.4%.

This is more than double what these food categories typically increase by in a year, and the cause of the rise was the various COVID-19-related meat processing plant closures, which notably had an impact on plants in South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota.

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"Meat prices had not experienced this level of inflation since 2014, when drought and high feed prices combined to drive up retail prices," the USDA notes.

With restaurants and schools across the country closing due to "stay at home" orders, there was increased demand for several food products at grocery stores as a result. 

As well as meat, there were also significant increases in the prices of eggs, dairy, and non alcoholic drinks.

The last time that grocery food price inflation was as high as 3.5% was back in 20111, when a combination of poor weather, high fuel prices, international trade disruptions, and low commodity harvests impacted global food prices.

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