Shoppers notice rising food prices

Cindy Carter routinely shops three local stores — Food Lion in Tellico Village to Ingles and Aldi in Lenoir City — to find bargains on the items she wants.

Loudon County shoppers are feeling the impact of rising prices at local grocery stores.

And they also notice they can’t always find what they’re looking for.

Supply chain hiccups and increased prices have become the norm following the shutdown of production plants, a shortage of workers due to COVID-19 and increased fuel costs.

Local shoppers said they can track the increase in prices by the decrease in their wallets. For some, higher costs lead to spending more. For others, increased prices mean buying less.

Margaret Elmore didn’t have to think twice about whether she has noticed prices going up at Food City in Loudon.

“Oh Lordy yes. On just about everything,” she said, emphasizing meat is especially pricey.

She said she has been looking for cheaper cuts of meat and buying more chicken — when she can find it.

“I tried to get chicken the other day and they ran out,” Elmore said.

With a growing strain on finances, Elmore said she tries to use more coupons and looks for items on sale.

Most of the shelves at Food City were well stocked Friday morning. Meat, fish and poultry racks were full. Lean ground beef was priced at $4.49 per pound and prime top sirloin at $5.99 per pound. Salmon filets were going for $9.99 per pound. Reduced fat milk was $4.79 a gallon.

In the frozen food section, a few of the coolers had bare racks. Rick Hamil of Loudon was looking for frozen french fries but couldn’t find the brand he wanted. He said he has “most definitely” noticed rising prices but hasn’t worried too much.

“I still buy what I want,” he said.

At Aldi in Lenoir City there was less of a selection on the shelves but buyers said they looked for better prices.

Cindy Carter said she likes the quality and price of steaks at Aldi, although the meat selection is not robust. Ground beef at 73 percent lean was priced at $2.99 per pound.

“Steaks at Aldi can be several dollars per pound less,” she said.

Carter said she shops at several stores to get everything she wants. Food Lion in Tellico Village has great quality and Ingles has a wide selection, she said.

She has noticed prices steadily rising at all three stores she shops. “They keep edging up just 10 or 20 cents,” she said.

For example, eggs, priced at $1.60 a dozen Friday, were $1.20 a dozen not too long ago, she said. Reduced fat milk was $2.84 a gallon at Aldi.

Ingles in Lenoir City looks like a grocery shoppers’ paradise. Wide aisles were fully stocked on both sides with packaged and canned goods. There did not appear to be shortages of any items.

The meat, fish and poultry cases seemed expansive and were stocked with boneless ribeye steaks at $16.98 a pound as well as wild and farm-raised salmon at $11.98 and $9.98 a pound, respectively. Bacon was available at $5.98 a pound or $7.98 a pound for a premium brand.

Premium prices result in some people having to make choices.

Gerald Augustus, retired Lenoir City Elementary School principal, said he has noticed meat prices rising over the last few months but he keeps buying, often focused more on hamburger than steak. On Friday, he was picking up some ground beef, which was $4.08 a pound for 75 percent lean.

Rhonda Stephens had a full cart heading out of Ingles. She said she is fortunate not to have to buy much meat because she operates a cattle farm.

She said she couldn’t find certain items, like whole wheat peanut butter crackers and Lipton Peach Ice Tea, but hasn’t really noticed shortages.

Stephens said she has noticed prices rising on staples like eggs but isn’t bothered much by the trend. She said she doesn’t intend to change her shopping habits.

“If I want something I buy it,” Stephens said.

Some of those fortunate enough not have to make choices still can’t resist a bargain.

“I don’t pay that much attention to prices,” Shannon Riley said. “We buy what we need.”

Riley, who shops for her family at Food City in Loudon, said she can’t pass up a bargain.

“If I see a deal on something I’ll buy it,” she said.

The cost of food has been rising steadily in the United States and around the world. Data shows the problem has been building for more than two years.

The food price index published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations consists of the average of five commodity group prices representing the average international prices of food. The index is updated monthly and averaged for the year.

For 2019, the yearly average index was 95.1, but rose to 125.7 for 2021. The accelerating rise during 2021 can be tracked monthly. In January 2021, the index was 108.6. By December, the index was 133.7.