The Wall Street Journal

Food Sellers Grit Teeth, Raise Prices
The Wall Street Journal

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

For food executives, how quickly to pass along higher costs presents difficult choices. Missteps could be costly when the economy remains weak. Many Americans, nervous about high unemployment, have pledged allegiance to their pennies and are willing to trade down on brands, switch supermarkets, opt for Burger King over Applebee’s, or stop dining out altogether to save money.

Food prices are rising faster than overall inflation. The consumer price index for all items minus food and energy rose 0.8% over the year to September, the lowest 12-month increase since March 1961, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. The food index rose 1.4%, however. The U.S. Agricultural Department is predicting overall food inflation of about 2% to 3% next year.

McDonald’s chief financial officer Pete Bensen recently told investors he expects costs to rise 2% in the U.S. and 3% in Europe next year.