Although gas prices have been rapidly falling in the past month, food prices may not follow suit, and consumers are looking for alternatives to the high-priced grocery store chains.
Over the past several years, rising gas prices have pushed the price of food higher and higher as farmers and grocery stores struggled to make a profit while their production and transportation costs skyrocketed.
Concerns over the weakening economy have inspired many people to purchase local foods over imported groceries. This movement, helped by organizations like the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, works to support local farmers and the local economy and to reduce the ecological footprint, or “foodprint,” of what people eat. The lower transportation costs may also help some retailers curtail the rising costs of groceries.
One such local food retailer, Atkins Farm in Amherst, Mass., provides shoppers with all the variety of a large chain store, but places a great emphasis on buying and selling local products. On a Monday morning, their parking lot is full and the aisles are packed with people looking for fresh, local fruits, vegetables, dairy products, baked goods and even flowers.
Cathy Kirley, an employee of Atkins Farms, says that in recent months they have seen a significant increase in business.
“It’s nice, they know it’s fresh,” she said. Kirley works at both Atkins and at a larger chain grocery store, Stop & Shop in Northampton. Although both stores have seen large price increases, she says that she notices higher increases at Stop & Shop.
Still, the difficulties farmers have faced in fueling their tractors and farm equipment has taken a toll on Atkins as well. Kirley estimates that on average, prices have risen about $2, and some of the farmers who supply her shelves might not make it through the tough times.
“One company, I think it was in Conway, Mass., I can’t get in touch with them anymore,” she said. “I don’t know what happened, because I was ordering once a week, and now the phone’s disconnected. So I’m all upset because I don’t know what happened to them.”
And although fuel prices are finally dropping, the numbers at the grocery store might not be changing anytime soon. According to the Associated Press, it is likely that food retailers will absorb the lower production costs into their profits. Because prices are set by the companies, not on an open market like the price of oil, companies will lock in the higher prices even though the rationale for them is gone, padding their profits and keeping the average consumer’s grocery bill troublingly high.