Retail food prices remained deflationary in March, but improved sequentially for the second straight month, data released Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed.
On a year-over-year basis, prices in the CPI’s food-at-home index, a proxy for grocery store prices, fell by 0.9%. March marked the ninth straight month of lower overall retail food prices. However, prices were up 0.5% from February, the largest sequential improvement for the index since May of 2014. In February, the index was up 0.3% from December.
The indexes for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs; for fruits and vegetables; and for cereals and bakery products declined over the past 12 months, the Bureau said, while the other three major grocery store food group indexes (non-alcoholic beverages, dairy and other) increased slightly over the span.
Fresh fruits and vegetables saw prices rebound in March and post its largest sequential percent gain (1.6%) in six years despite declines in retail prices for tomatoes, potatoes and oranges, the data showed. Within the meat index (+0.7% from February), prices were down in March for beef and veal, uncooked steaks, pork chops, fresh seafood and eggs. The dairy category was down 0.6% in March reflecting lower prices for milk, cheese and ice cream.
The index for food away from home, a proxy for restaurant prices, rose 0.2% in March, the same increase as in February, and is up by 2.44% over the last 12 months.
Earlier this week the Bureau said its producer price index, which tracks grocery input costs, turned positive again in March, led by a strong rebound in produce. Analysts say retail prices typically lag producer-level changes by a period of five or six months.