Costs Fall 6.9 Pct. In Month

Posted: August 10, 1988

Local food prices have dropped sharply this month, all but offsetting the big increases recorded in the last two months' surveys.

The cost of our Market Basket shopping list of 35 representative foods fell 6.9 percent from July's levels and now stands 3 percent below those of one year ago. This month's Market Basket cost $47.61, compared with $51.14 last month and $49.07 in August 1987.

Some of this month's savings can be traced to lower "regular" prices for flour, sugar, dried beans, cereal, rice, canned soup, peaches and pineapple at two markets we surveyed - in Brookhaven, Delaware County, and in Northeast Philadelphia.

Added to these savings were chainwide sales on such items as margarine, cheese, peanut butter, mayonnaise, canned tuna, lettuce, bananas, new potatoes, ground beef and rump roast. In all, prices for about two-thirds of the items on our shopping list remained stable or declined last week, thanks to a highly competitive supermarket situation in Northeast Philadelphia, seasonal bounty and store promotions, including two coupon specials distributed in the markets as well as through newspaper advertisements.

Such efforts by stores to hold the line on prices have, so far at least, offset any price increases that may be related to the drought.

One significant increase in costs was found in the bakery departments of the markets we visited. Despite in-store reductions on the pre-marked prices of most bread items, the cost was a good deal higher than usual. None of the stores visited carried the lower-priced generic loaves, and the selection of store-brand bread was limited. As a result, many shoppers found themselves paying 20 to 40 cents more per loaf than usual.

If you need one more example of how important comparison shopping can be to your food budget, consider these extremes encountered last week: The least expensive commercial white bread at one of the markets we surveyed last week cost the equivalent of $1.21 for our 24-ounce portion. The lowest price among the three stores surveyed was the 82 cents shown on the accompanying chart. At the same time, however, shoppers at yet another supermarket chain (one not included in this month's survey) could buy 22-ounce loaves of the store-brand bread on sale at three for $1, the equivalent of 37 cents per loaf of the 24- ounce size.

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Regular followers of our Market Basket survey may notice significant changes in our chart this month.

To better reflect current shopping habits and the changing American diet, the Market Basket shopping list has been revised and updated. This month's list reflects new specifications for two food items, the deletion of two items and the addition of two.

The following changes have been made in our list of foods:

* The size of frozen orange juice concentrate has been changed from six ounces to 12 ounces.

* Boneless ham takes the place of bone-in butt on our list. We consider it more convenient, more uniform and more widely available.

* Evaporated milk has been dropped from our pricing survey. We don't consider it a widely representative food item for most families.

* Bacon has also been eliminated from our list, which had contained four pork products, and has been replaced by frozen fish filets.

* Canned condensed tomato soup has been added, reflecting our sense that it is a highly representative item - both as a food unto itself and as an ingredient in cooking other foods.

Last month's and last year's prices on the accompanying chart have been revised, along with this month's prices, to reflect the new items.

As with the original shopping list, the 35 food items now being monitored represent a cross-section of the hundreds of foods tracked monthly in cities across the country for the Labor Department's Consumer Price Index. The selection includes staples; processed and convenience foods; generics, store brands and top-selling national brands; frozen foods, canned goods and fresh produce (local, regional and imported). All items are priced by specific size, weight, quality grade and/or brand.

The stores we visited for this month's survey were the Acme at Red Lion Plaza in Northeast Philadelphia, where the 35 items cost $52.82; the Brookhaven Pathmark on Route 352 in Delaware County, $53.37, and the Super Fresh at 15th Street and Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia, $60.17.

The prices on the accompanying chart are the lowest for each of our 35 items at the stores we visited. Twenty of those prices were available at the Acme, 17 at the Pathmark and six at the Super Fresh. One item, milk, carried the same price at all three markets.

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