Food prices post highest monthly gain in 30 years

Experts say February freeze led way to price hike

TAMPA - Food prices in America rose 3.9 percent in February, the largest monthly gain in 36 years, The Labor Department reported Wednesday in its monthly Producer Price Index.

"The index for finished consumer foods surged 3.9 percent in February, the
largest increase since a 4.2 percent climb in November 1974," The PPI report said.

Most of the increase was due to a huge spike in vegetable prices.

"It was the winter weather," said Steve Lueng of the Sanwa Farmer's Market in Tampa. "We had two freezes on Florida. A freeze in California. A freeze in Texas. A freeze in northwest Mexico," said Lueng.

Prices doubled in a matter of weeks on many wholesale vegetables. "Eggplant, carrots, cucumbers, green peppers all doubled. At least," said Lueng.

Customers at Tampa area supermarkets noticed too. "I can't believe it," said Tasha Brown outside a Sweetbay Supermarket. "It's crazy," she said.

Both Sweetbay and competitor Publix are offering specials to help customers handle the hikes. "We suggest customers buy store brands," said Sweetbay Spokesperson Nicole LeBeau.

"They're just as good as the national brands and much cheaper," she said.

Spokesperson Shannon Patten of Publix said the chain is aware of the increases.

"(Publix is) challenging cost increases from suppliers and making sure such increases are justified. We have been successful in delaying some cost increases, reducing the amounts of some increases and working with our suppliers to create more weekly specials," Patten said.


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