NAPLES — Nowadays, Kesia Sondrini is shopping differently to adjust to the hike in food prices.
The North Naples resident said she has noticed a significant increase in food prices across Southwest Florida.
“I’ve noticed it, but it doesn’t change my buying habits,” said Sondrini, who shops at different supermarkets for her groceries. “We just adjust accordingly.”
Sondrini, 37, who now relies on coupons for additional discounts, said she is spending at least $35 more weekly buying her groceries compared to a year ago. She said the biggest hike in prices for her has been on fruits, vegetables, deli and meats.
Food prices that consumers feared would rise because of severe weather damage to crops this past summer started creeping up five months ago across Southwest Florida. Some prices are about the same as they were in mid-December.
To gauge the extent of what nature has done to food prices, the Daily News began documenting the price changes at several stores in mid-September and reporting on the cost of 11 food items that might be affected by severe weather damage to crops.
“The drought has resulted in higher food prices than we would have had otherwise,” said Patrick Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of MissouriColumbia. “Farm-level prices for corn, soybeans and other crops increased sharply, and that increases the cost of producing a wide range of foods. It also means higher feed costs to livestock producers, and that means less production of meat and milk than would have occurred otherwise, and that translates into higher prices.”
However, Westhoff said the increase in food prices so far has been far more modest than expected.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average food prices in March 2013 were only 1.5 percent above prices in the same month in 2012.
Dog food remained at higher prices on May 8 at two stores for the seventh consecutive month, but dropped at another store and remained the same at another. Corn oil increased at two supermarkets, but dropped at one.
Ground-chuck hamburger increased at two of the supermarkets and remained the same at two others. Center-cut pork chops and ham dipped in price at two supermarkets and remained the same at two others.
Top sirloin steak prices decreased at two supermarkets and remained the same at two grocery stores.
Meanwhile, diesel prices continued to increase for the second month in a row. Fuel costs also could affect food prices; diesel is used by many delivery trucks. The average diesel price in Naples was $3.93 per gallon this past week, although that is a decrease from $4.08 per gallon on Sept. 12, according to gasbuddy.com.
“We and USDA both expect food inflation to pick up in the months ahead, as higher prices for meat and other products find their way to the consumer, but we’re still talking about annual food price inflation of something under 3 percent for 2013 as a whole — maybe a little faster than overall inflation, but not by much,” Westhoff said.
When it comes to groceries, Don Taylor buys what he needs and doesn’t pay attention to the price.
“If it is something that I need, I just buy it,” he said.
The 76-year-old Bonita Springs resident said he is concerned for the people who aren’t able to buy what they need because of the hike.
Here are some examples of food prices that have gone up since Sept. 12, when the Daily News began documenting the price changes:
■ Ground-chuck hamburger — 80 percent lean/20 percent fat — was $3.99 per pound for the third month in a row, compared to $3.79 in mid-September at the Sweetbay near U.S. 41 and Bonita Beach Road in Bonita Springs. Ground-chuck hamburger was $3.99 per pound for the fourth month in a row, compared to $3.69 in mid-September, at the Target on Immokalee Road.
■ A 40-ounce bottle of Mazola corn oil rose to $4.59, compared to $3.99 in mid-September, at the Sweetbay. The same bottle of corn oil was $3.74, compared to $3.48 in mid-September, at the Wal-Mart store near U.S. 41 and Immokalee Road.
■ A box of Old El Paso crunchy 12 hard taco shells was $1.32, compared to $1.27 in mid-September, at the Target on Immokalee Road.
■ An 8-pound bag of Purina One smart blend dog food was $14.69 for the seventh straight month, compared to $13.89 in mid-September at the Publix near U.S. 41 and West Terry Street in Bonita Springs. At the Sweetbay, a bag of Purina One was $13.89 for the sixth month in a row, compared to $12.89 eight months ago.
Here are examples of prices that have decreased since Sept. 12:
■ Publix brand top sirloin steak dropped to $5.99 per pound for the first time in nine months from $6.99 at the Publix store near U.S. 41 and West Terry Street in Bonita Springs. At Wal-Mart, top sirloin steak dipped to $5.98 per pound, compared to $6.18, at the store on Immokalee Road.
■ The Publix brand of honey-cured spiral sliced ham decreased to $2.69 per pound, compared to $2.99 in mid-September.
■ A 40-ounce bottle of Mazola corn oil dropped to $3.24, compared to $3.84 back then at the Target store on Immokalee Road.
■ The Wal-Mart brand of glazed spiral sliced ham dropped to $2.38 per pound from $2.68 back then.
■ A one-pound bag of frozen Wal-Mart brand whole kernel corn decreased to 98 cents for the fifth month in a row, compared to $1.08 in mid-September at the store near U.S. 41 and Immokalee Road. A one-pound bag of frozen Sweetbay brand whole kernel corn was 98 cents, compared to $1.19 eight months ago.
■ A box of Old El Paso brand crunchy 12 hard taco shells was $1.25 for the second month in a row, compared to $1.38 in mid-September, at the Wal-Mart on U.S. 41 near Immokalee Road.