A person pushes a grocery cart down the dairy aisle of the grocery store. The cart contains lots of fresh vegetables and other items. The person's hands and lower body are visible.

Grocery Inflation: Items That Cost More in 2022

Inflation is driving up costs on just about everything, including groceries. Learn which items cost more now and what you can do to save money at the grocery store.

Portrait of Lora Shinn

Lora Shinn
Contributor
Aug 4, 2022 in: Everyday Finance

As your grocery bill inches upward, month after month, you may be wondering if there's anything you can do about inflation's grip on your wallet at the grocery store.

We dove into recently released data to discover where prices have increased the most — and what small changes might add up to significant savings and help keep you out of debt.

Overall, consumer prices are the highest they've been in 40 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2022 report. On average, grocery prices across the United States have increased 12% in 12 months as of June 2022, the largest 12-month increase since April 1979.

On the West Coast, including Seattle, overall grocery inflation is on par with the rest of the country at 12.8%, but some items saw dramatically larger increases.

Breaking down the data and comparing the numbers to your own grocery receipts might help you understand what's driving up your grocery bills — and maybe even help you outsmart inflation.

Which Proteins Cost More

Meat-based protein includes chicken, turkey, beef, pork and seafood. Plant-based proteins include beans, peas and lentils. We include eggs and peanut butter in the protein category, too.

Meat takes up the lion's share of many food bills and experienced stunning price changes. Inflation for many of these foods saw double-digit percentage increases in the past year.

Protein costs that increased the most in the last year, as of June 2022, include eggs, chicken parts and lunch meat, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Items with the smallest increases include veal, beef roasts and pork chops. The price of beef steaks decreased.

Protein Source U.S. % Cost Increase June 2021-22
Eggs 33%
Fresh and frozen chicken parts 20%
Lunch meats 18%
Frankfurters 16%
Fresh whole chicken 16%
Frozen and fresh seafood 14%
Breakfast sausage and related products 14%
Turkey and other poultry (not chicken) 12%
Processed fish and seafood 11%
Bacon and related products 11%
Fresh fish and seafood 11%
Dried beans, peas and lentils 10%
Ground beef 10%
Ham 10%
Peanut butter 10%
Shelf-stable fish and seafood 7%
Pork roasts, steaks and ribs 7%
Pork chops 4%
Beef roasts 4%
Other beef and veal 3%
Beef steaks -0.3%

How To Save on Protein

1. Buy Lower-Priced Meats

Despite being more affected by inflation, some meats, like chicken, continue to cost less overall. For example, by May 2022, inflation boosted the price of beef steaks by 7% from the previous year. A month later, the price has decreased 0.3% year-over-year. At $9.83 per pound on average as of June 2022, beef steaks are on the higher end of all meats, according to CPI data.

Contrast steak with chicken: Inflation increased the price of whole chicken by 16%, but buying a whole bird is only $1.83 per pound.

A woman in the meat aisle at the grocery store looks at a package of meat she's holding.
Even though the price of whole chicken has increased, you'll still save if you buy chicken instead of steak.

2. Diversify Your Protein Sources

As it turns out, diversifying your protein sources isn't just good for your health but also for your wallet. To save money, swap out one or two meat-based meals per week for meals that rely more heavily on low-cost protein foods such as beans, peas and lentils. On average, a pound of dried beans is just $1.64, and a pound makes 12 servings. Even protein-rich peanut butter went up in the past year — but not at the same rate as other sources of protein.

Despite holding the top inflation position, eggs are still a low-cost, high-protein food that are easy to add to or make into a meal.

A person holds an open, cardboard egg carton of 18 brown eggs in one hand and an egg in the other. Stacks of eggs in cartons line the grocery shelves in the background.
Egg prices increased 33% year-over-year, but eggs are still a lower-cost protein source compared with many meats.

3. Buy Protein in Bulk

You can lower meat costs by buying value-sized packs, typically priced lower per pound, and freezing what you don't use right away.

Buying nuts and beans in bulk may also make sense per pound. Compare pricing to snack packs or smaller bags — and stash in a cool, dry place.

4. Make Substitutions

Depending on the protein source, you could save by opting for a different cut. A package of chicken parts, for example, increased by four percentage points more than a fresh whole chicken in the last year, and whole chicken was already considerably less expensive per pound. If your recipe calls for chicken, try cooking the whole bird and cutting it up instead of buying specific parts.

If your favorite soup needs flavor, try substituting lower-cost ham ($5.38 per pound) for bacon ($7.40 per pound) in soups or other meals.

Instead of fresh seafood, consider canned and packaged seafood such as tuna, salmon, and sardines. These shelf-stable fish and seafood can cost less and they weren't hit as hard by inflation in the past year, as the chart above shows.

Which Fruits and Vegetables Cost More

Veggies and fruit provide lower-calorie nutrients such as vitamin C while offering filling fiber. Fruits and vegetables can reduce cholesterol and help reduce your risk of heart disease — and staying healthy can help save money in the long run by reducing your medical bills.

Fruits and vegetables have lower inflation rates compared to other foods such as meat, dairy and grains. The price of all citrus fruits combined, which topped the list in May with a 16% increase since last year, dropped seven percentage points to a 9% year-over-year increase as of June. Canned fruits and veggies now top the list. Lettuce continues to be more affected by inflation compared with other produce. Fresh tomatoes, apples and bananas were least affected by inflation in the last year.

Here's a breakdown of how much the prices of some fruits and vegetables have increased since last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics June 2022 data.

Fruits and Vegetables U.S. Percent Cost Increase June 2021-22
Canned vegetables 14%
Canned fruits 12%
Lettuce 11%
Oranges including tangerines 11%
All citrus 9%
Frozen vegetables 10%
Potatoes 9%
Fresh fruits 7%
Bananas 7%
Fresh vegetables 7%
Apples 6%
Tomatoes 1%

How To Save on Fruits and Vegetables

1. Canned and Frozen Produce Can Still Reduce Costs

While the CPI doesn't track many individual fruits and vegetables, note that although frozen and canned fruits and vegetables have seen significant inflation in 2022, many of them still tend to cost less and are just as nutritious as fresh varieties. 

Frozen and canned fruits and veggies also reduce the amount of food you throw away when it gets mushy or moldy.

So, if you regularly buy canned and frozen produce, you may have noticed your grocery bill increasing, but you're still spending less than if you only buy fresh produce.

A man takes a can off the top shelf in a grocery aisle.
Canned produce usually costs less than fresh produce, and it can help you reduce the amount of food you throw away.

2. Buy Smaller Quantities

If you prefer fresh fruits and veggies, think about only buying enough to get through a day or two. You'll have to go to the store more often, but you'll throw out less food.

3. Plan Your Meals and Freeze Leftovers

If you like to use fresh veggies in your cooking, buy what you need for your favorite recipe. Make a big batch and freeze for later. Do this a few times, and you'll have a freezer full of quick and tasty meal options. If you portion your food before you freeze it, you can enjoy a single meal without thawing the whole batch.

A person places a stack of labeled plastic food containers into a refrigerator.
Prepare your meals in large batches and freeze the leftovers in meal-sized portions. It takes extra planning but it reduces the amount of fresh produce that goes bad before you can eat it.

4. Swap Out Citrus

Oranges and other citrus are spendy right now due to increased demand for the vitamin C-rich fruit and decreased supply in 2022. Think about swapping out citrus and oranges for other fruits, including apples and bananas.

5. Buy Local and In-Season

Shop for in-season, Northwest-grown fruits and vegetables not on this list — which should also cost less and often taste better than out-of-season produce. Freeze strawberries, blueberries and other in-season produce when you spot a great sale.

Bananas and apples on a wood table.
Try eating more apples and bananas while citrus prices are high.

6. Grow Your Own

Try growing a fruit or vegetable you eat regularly, even if that's just fresh herbs or tomatoes on an outdoor patio. 

A person carries a basket loaded with fresh vegetables outside.
Growing your own food can reduce your grocery costs.

Which Dairy Products Cost More

The dairy category includes milk, cheese, ice cream and other products. We're including butter and margarine in this category, too.

The cost of margarine made the most significant jump due to inflation at a whopping 35%. Butter increased by 21%. Milk increased by 16%, although milk is one of the least expensive dairy products. Cheese increased the least compared with other dairy categories at 10%, but it's also one of the more expensive dairy products.

Here's how inflation has increased the cost of dairy items since 2021, according to June CPI data.

A hand with blue nail polish cuts into a stick of butter with a butter knife.
Margarine and butter top the list of dairy products that have increased the most in price during the last year.
Dairy U.S. Percent Cost Increase June 2021-22
Margarine 35%
Butter 21%
Fresh whole milk 17%
Fresh milk other than whole 17%
Ice cream and related products 13%
Cheese and related products 10%

How To Save on Dairy Products

1. Buy in Bulk

Buying milk and yogurt in larger volumes can reduce costs per liter or quart, but be careful you aren't throwing more away, too. 

2. Try Cutting Back

Buying in bulk can reduce your unit price but buying less overall will lower your spending. Depending on the type of dairy you're consuming, cutting back might be a good choice for your health, too. Cheese and ice cream, for example, are higher-cost dairy items and they tend to be high in unhealthy saturated fats.

A woman in a striped tank top dips a pink plastic spoon into a yellow cardboard dish of ice cream with sprinkles.
Ice cream and cheese are higher-cost dairy items. Consider these occasional treats to save on groceries.

Which Grains Cost More

The grain category has a broad variety of food types, from staple ingredients such as flour, rice and cornmeal, to prepared foods such as crackers, bread and bakery treats.

Flour, refrigerated bakery products and crackers top the inflation list, while bread and rice are at the bottom, but still experiencing double-digit increases.

Here's how inflation has increased the cost of items in the grain category over the last year, according to June CPI data.

Grains U.S. Percent Cost Increase June 2021-22
Flour and prepared flour mixes 19%
Frozen and refrigerated bakery products, pies, tarts, turnovers 17%
Crackers and cracker products 17%
Cookies 15%
Fresh sweet rolls, coffee cakes, doughnuts 15%
Breakfast cereal 14%
Rice, pasta, cornmeal 14%
Fresh biscuits, rolls, muffins 13%
Rice 12%
Bread other than white 12%
Fresh cakes and cupcakes 12%
White bread 10%

How To Save on Grains

1. Buy Ingredients Instead of Prepared Foods

Flour may top the inflation list but it's comparatively low-cost. For example, white, all-purpose flour is $0.50 per pound — but buying chocolate chip cookies costs around 10 times as much, at $4.57 per pound, according to CPI data.

It might not be the worst idea for your grocery bill or your health to cut back on prepared foods such as crackers, rolls, frozen pies cookies and cakes. Try making your own instead.

A bakery employee wearing a green apron and visor reaches over a glass bakery case to hand a cookie to a little girl. A woman standing next to the little girl is smiling.
Flour prices have soared, but flour is still a comparatively low-cost item. Buy ingredients and make your own baked goods to save money.

2. Buy Whole Grains in Bulk

Many whole grains can be found in the cost-conscious bulk aisle, making the unit cost less than if you bought them in a package. You can fill your pantry with ingredients for your favorite dishes, or just buy a small amount for that one special meal. Many whole grains don't go bad, so you can stock up and have what you need on hand when the mood to cook strikes.

Which Beverages Cost More

We looked at CPI data for non-alcoholic beverages, including coffee, tea, carbonated drinks and frozen juice. Even your morning cup wasn't spared. Roasted coffee increased 17% between June 2021 and June 2022. Instant coffee didn't increase by as much in the past year and is often less expensive overall. Tea and frozen juices are at the bottom of the list for inflationary increases.

Beverages U.S. Percent Cost Increase June 2021-22
Roasted coffee 17%
Nonfrozen, noncarbonated juices and drinks 12%
Instant coffee 11%
Carbonated drinks 11%
Frozen noncarbonated juices and drinks 8%
Other beverage materials, including tea 6%

1. Try Instant Coffee or Tea

We understand that messing with a serious coffee drinker's routine is a tall order, but you might save by swapping in instant coffee for roasted several days per week. Tea's percentage rise was also lower, so tea might be an economical pick-me-up.

2. Buy Juice From Frozen Concentrate Instead of Pop

Carbonated drinks (soda for those on the East Coast, pop for the West Coast and Coke for the South) also rose by 11%. Making your frozen lemonade didn't increase as much, with lower inflation for frozen juices and drinks.

3. Drink More Water

Even cheaper than juice or pop? Switch to a pitcher of fresh tap water in the fridge. Add flavor with cucumber, mint, or other herbs, fruits and vegetables.

A full cup of coffee in a paper cup sits on a wood surface. A black plastic lid leans against the cup. A few coffee beans and a brown paper bag of coffee sit on either side of the cup. The corner of a carboard carrying tray is visible.
Inflation increased the price of roasted coffee 16% on average in the last year across the U.S.
A woman drinks a glass of water.
For just the price of your water bill, tap water is a healthy, hydrating, low-cost alternative to juice or pop.

Other Tips To Save at the Grocery Store

While you can't reverse grocery inflation, these money-saving tips may help you manage it:

1. Watch Out For 'Shrinkflation'

Some manufacturers are shrinking package sizes while charging the same. This is called "shrinkflation," and food brands hope you aren't paying attention. When shopping, compare brands by looking for the item's unit price on the shelf label per pound, ounce, or however the food is measured. 

2. Buy Store Brands

Buy store brands to save 20%-30%, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Everyday items to find as store brands include canned tomatoes, oils, milk, and frozen fruits and vegetables. 

3. Look For Coupons

Don't worry about finding the scissors and this week's circular. Many Seattle-area retailers now offer an app with coupons inside. Favorite food manufacturers may also offer coupons on their websites. 

4. Make a Menu

Create a week or few days' menus, and shop with a list to avoid impulse purchases and repeated store visits. Freeze leftovers for future meals — and prevent last-minute binge buys from a random burger joint.  

5. Shop New Stores

If you've found prices increasing dramatically at a local Seattle-area store for something you buy regularly, shop around. Investigate international stores, grocery outlets, membership clubs and big retailers like Target or Wal-Mart. You never know where you may find a new deal.

Inflation on the West Coast

Grocery prices increased 12.8% in the West in the last year, with the percentages increasing by double digits in all categories. That's close to the national increase of 12.2% on grocery prices. But we may be noticing markedly increased prices on specific items here on the West Coast, including in the Seattle region.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compared prices of foods in the West region versus the U.S. average. Here are sample foods that spiked on the West Coast at a far higher rate compared to the rest of the U.S.:

Food U.S. Increase June 2021-22 West Increase June 2021-22 Percentage Point difference
All Ham (Excluding Canned Ham and Luncheon Slices) 9% 30% 21
American cheese 13% 25% 12
Tomatoes 1% 9% 8
Steak, round, USDA Choice, boneless 0.3% 8% 8
Boneless chicken breast 36% 44% 8
Bacon 11% 19% 8
Whole milk 17% 22% 6

Some data for common items wasn't available for June that was reported in May. For example, in U.S. cities surveyed, white flour cost an average of $0.45 per pound, while in the West region, it was $0.65 per pound in May.

Where in the country you shop and what you buy can translate to real differences at the grocery check-out. You'll still have to factor in the price, and not just the increase to figure out what's most economical, though. Ham increased nearly 30% on the West Coast compared with 9% across the U.S., at $5.02 per pound, ham continues to cost less than bacon at $7.50 per pound on the West Coast.

The gap widened in the West Coast's favor in some cases, as well. For example, spaghetti prices increased 22.6% for the U.S. but only 9.2% in the West. Beef prices dropped 0.1% in the West while they increased 5.4% across the U.S.

Popular Pacific Northwest beverages fared better locally than across the U.S., too. Wine prices fell 4.6% in the West, much more than the 0.4% they fell across the rest of the U.S. Ground coffee rose five percentage points less in the West than across the U.S., but at a 20.6% increase, West Coast shoppers will still feel a jolt at the check-out line.

Knowing the Costs Can Help You Save

It's one thing to know inflation is driving up your overall expenses. Taking a closer look at the cost of items you buy frequently can help you adjust your shopping list and save at the store.

Percentages in tables have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

Portrait of Lora Shinn

Lora Shinn
Contributor

Lora specializes in personal finance topics for BECU, and has also written for regional and national publications such as AAA Journey Magazine, The Seattle Times and U.S. News and World Report.