Grocery prices

Lee Tiburzi, of Tempe, shops inside a Bashas' store in Tempe on Aug. 4, 2011. [File photo]

A desire by consumers for healthier alternatives to beef is turning around and hitting them in the wallets.

The latest survey of food prices last week by the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation shows the cost of a typical market basket of items is up 6 percent from the prior quarter. And leading the way is chicken.

Peggy Jo Goodfellow, the organization’s marketing manager, said federation shoppers found the average price for a pound of boneless chicken breasts last quarter was $4.65 a pound. That’s a whopping 82 percent increase from just three months earlier.

“It’s all demand driven,” she said. Put simply, as shoppers want more chicken, producers who have a constant need to sell off their animals can charge more.

But figuring out the reasons behind all that is something else.

Goodfellow said that chicken has had a reputation for being a better alternative than beef for the diet. At the same time, the cost per pound has generally run less than other meats.

Now chickens are giving cattle and pigs a run for their money.

That breast meat is more dear than sliced deli ham. And it is approaching what a consumer might have to pay for a sirloin tip roast.

The effect is being felt beyond Arizona. John Anderson, deputy chief economist for the American Farm Bureau, said chicken prices are up nationwide. So are bacon and shredded cheese, both locally and nationally.

The price of eggs continues to flirt with the $2-a-dozen range. Goodfellow said that likely reflects the costs for producers for everything from feed to fuel.

And potatoes suddenly became more expensive, though Goodfellow said she has no idea why.

Yet the new report does show some relative bargains.

As chicken prices continue to skyrocket, beef prices are slipping. That roast that cost $5.69 a pound earlier this year is now 54 cents a pound cheaper than three months ago.

The price of milk also has finally eased off, dropping 62 cents a gallon to a statewide average of $2.45. And, for the moment, orange juice also is cheaper.

Goodfellow noted that the quarterly survey is based on what Farm Bureau volunteers find at markets around the state, excluding promotional deals. She said shoppers probably can find even better deals by hunting for sales, especially from stores that give even deeper discounts to those who use their loyalty cards, as well as clipping coupons.

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