The United Nations Food Price Index showed an increase for the seventh consecutive month in January, with global prices for food commodities hitting their highest mark since the UN began backtracking prices in 1990.
The FPI, which measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of five food commodities (meat, dairy, cereals, oils and fats, and sugars), rose to an alarming 231 points to start off the new year.
By contrast, the average FPI just 10 years ago, in 2001, was 93 points.
"The federal government is predicting that average food prices will increase up to 3 percent this year, but the cost of some things have already begun moving much higher," said Tops Friendly Markets representative Katie McKenna. "Beef was up 6.2 percent at the end of last year compared with a year ago. Pork has jumped 12.9 percent."
Adding to the cost of the food itself are rising fuel costs, which account for increases in shipping and packaging costs, said Evelyn Carter, director of consumer affairs for Wegmans Food Markets.
But making sense of global numbers in terms of baskets of food raises one concern for consumers: how long before those prices become unrealistic for the average household?
Insulated for now
For the time being, most grocery retailers can keep from passing those increases on to customers.
Carter said Wegmans has been able to absorb most of the increases.
McKenna said Tops has also managed to offset most costs, especially be negotiating special deals and discounts to customers.
But where's the breaking point?
"When you hear that it's a worldwide food crisis, that's really scary," said Paul Nojaim, co-owner of Nojaim Brothers Market at 307 Gifford St.
He said he's been reading reports for years of rising costs, though the most devastating shifts haven't hit his shelves, yet. And some experts argue that grocers won't ever experience overwhelming price increases, though the steady rise is undeniable.