Eintime Conversion for education and research 04-08-2008 @ 12:48:11
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January 21, 2008 -- Food prices are skyrocketing and it's enough to make you gag on your milk. That's because milk costs 29 percent more than it did a year ago, and that's not all: Eggs are up 36 percent, and tomatoes 31 percent.

The cost of groceries, as compiled by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, has jumped 5.6 percent in the last year - higher than the inflation rate with dairy products soaring 13.4 percent.

"That's a huge increase, no question about it," says bureau economist Dave Richardson.

Bread rose 10.5 percent; fruits and veggies went up 5.9 percent; and meat, poultry, fish and eggs rose 5.4 percent.

Oil prices are the main culprit.

"Our industry is very gasoline-driven - everything has been shipped by trailers, and fuel costs keep going up," said Nelson Eusebio, executive director of the National Supermarkets Association.

Other factors include rising demand for ethanol, which is driving up the price of corn, from which ethanol is made, and changes in Chinese consumption patterns.

"China is importing milk products where historically they have not," says Patrick Jackman, another bureau economist.

"Meat also was something not purchased by the Chinese in the past, and that they're doing to a greater extent today," he said.

What all these factors add up to is a price increase in staples like milk, eggs and bread - and that's hitting Big Apple families hard.

Elyse Fisher, 39, who lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, said it's much more expensive to feed her family.

"I know I've been spending a lot more, but I'm not sure on what," she said at Whole Foods in the Time Warner Center.

The bill for her weekly groceries came to $208.62 - up by nearly $10 over last year.

Pam Unger, 31, who also lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and 3-month-old daughter, was also at Whole Foods.

"I don't think I ever realized how expensive milk is," she said.

Unger got no argument from Doris Centeno, 59, who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

"Milk has gone up a lot. My budget is a little tighter," said Centeno, who was shopping at the C-Town supermarket there.

Frances Ruiz, 28, a mother who was shopping at the same store, echoed Centeno. "Everything is way different - now my paycheck is not enough," she said. "Cereal and juices went up. It's hard with kids."

Another Brooklyn mom agreed.

"We just can't get what we used to," complained Pam Lopez, 38. "This year has been much worse."

For Fanny Rodriguez, 45, the increases hit home when she went shopping for a family favorite.

"Mac and cheese usually is three boxes for a dollar - now it's two for a dollar," she grumbled.

The 5.6 percent hike in grocery prices was higher than the rate of inflation, 4.1 percent.

And the bad news is that grocery prices will likely rise another 3 to 4 percent this year.

Additional reporting by Charles Niedringhaus


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