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Surging food prices turn more shoppers into bargain hunters

Rising food prices are leading American consumers to fill their shopping carts with cheaper groceries.

Shoppers are seeking more discounts and are switching to lower-cost store brands for cooking oil, frozen food and items in other grocery sections, supermarket executives said. To stretch their dollars, people increasingly are comparing prices at various stores and signing up for savings programs such as automatic delivery that give additional discounts.

The move marks a shift in consumer behavior after shoppers splurged on food earlier in the pandemic. Food companies have said that unemployment benefits and federal stimulus checks left people with extra cash and that consumers spent more on groceries as they cut back on dining out and travel in 2020. As inflation reaches its highest rate in four decades, shoppers in recent months have started looking for ways to lower their food bills, industry executives and analysts said.

KROGER MANAGING INFLATION WITH SELECT PRICE INCREASES

“I’m getting creative with trying to save money,” said Natalie Existe, a health counselor who lives in New Jersey. She said that she is buying groceries in bulk and comparing prices of multiple retailers online before going shopping in person.

Ms. Existe said she has been checking weekly circulars for bargains and cutting spending on hair and nail appointments, as overall prices of goods increase. She said she has noticed higher prices for meat, vegetables and beverages such as orange juice and cranberry juice, and now spends about $200 a trip on groceries for herself and her 12-year-old son, compared with $125 to $150 months ago.

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The U.S. Labor Department’s consumer-price index, which tracks the costs of consumer goods and services, climbed 7% in December from the same month in 2020, the fastest pace since 1982. The food-at-home index rose 6.5% in 2021, the largest over-the-year increase since 2008. The index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs increased 12.5% from 2020 to 2021, while fruits, vegetables, cereal and bakery products were also more expensive.

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