With a wife and two teenagers, Rafael Andrade says he is doing all he can to combat the rising prices of food and other grocery store commodities.

Experts forecast a 3 percent to 5 percent increase in the months ahead due to a spike in the costs of grain and gasoline. So what is Andrade, who owns a window cleaning business, doing to make sure he, his family and his bank account don’t look like they’re beginning to starve?

The jump in prices has caused shoppers to scour grocery store ads, flock to the warehouse and thrift bakery stores and ranch markets and cut back altogether.

“I’ve noticed that the prices have gone up,” said Andrade, as his family loaded up bags of groceries in front of the Fry’s at 825 W. University Drive in Mesa. “So, I look at the sales ads from all of the grocery stores. Fry’s, Bashas’, Safeway, Albertson’s. I used to be able to buy orange juice for 99 cents, now it’s $1.19. Fruits and vegetables are going up, too. We’re starting to go to Sprout’s or a Ranch Market because the produce is cheaper and it’s just as fresh. We go to Costco to buy soap and toilet paper. We’re using coupons, too.”

Andrade, who grocery shops with his family once a week, estimates they are saving $80 per week by scouring the ads to look for deals and using coupons. And, he still buys snacks — “if they’re on sale,” he said.

According to the United Nations, global food prices hit a record high in February due to upward-spiraling gas prices and stockpiling by importers. These factors are hitting the already volatile cereal markets. Wheat, corn, sugar and edible oils have seen the sharpest price increases in the last six months, with a relatively smaller increase in rice. Produce has already skyrocketed, with prices expected to rise by roughly one-fourth to one-third in the next year.

The rising costs of corn, wheat and other commodities, including gasoline, is causing increases in virtually everything we buy. Wheat is needed for loaves of bread while corn feeds cows, pigs and chickens for our meat.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices of fruits and vegetables already are up 3 percent, milk is up 10 percent and beef up 13 percent from a year ago.

The price of $2.49 or $2.99 for a half-gallon of Breyer’s Ice Cream appears to be a thing of the past. Totino’s frozen pizzas no longer are four for $5 — but if you’re lucky, you can find three for that price.

And whatever happened to a 24-pack of Coke or Pepsi for $4.99? A 20-pack hovers around $6.99.

“It’s expensive,” said Liiana Mitamoros as she loaded bags of groceries into her car outside the same Fry’s. “Every week, it seems like things go up.”

Mitamoros, a married mother of three children with another on the way, said she shops once a week and noticed that her grocery bill was $30 more than previous week — $150 to $180.

And they’re not cutting back on what they buy, and neither is Bernette Burgeson’s family.

“If you buy what’s on sale and use coupons, it’s not as bad, but I can do better,” Burgeson said as she was loading groceries into an SUV. “I’m really using coupons for the first time.” More families also are frequenting bakery thrift stores to benefit from the much-lower prices on brand-name loaves of bread, cereal, snacks and other baked goods. At bakery thrift shops, the prices are sometimes half or less than half of those in large grocery stores.

“We can’t keep anything on the shelves,” said Lee, a worker at the Hostess/Wonder Bakery Thrift Store at 816 E. University Drive, Mesa. “More families are coming in — large families with four or five kids. It used to be mostly couples or retirees looking to save money.”

Lee, who only provided her first name, was quick to mention that many thrift stores like Hostess/Wonder aren’t day-old outlets anymore. They receive the excess that delivery drivers don’t have room to put in the grocery stores.

Sherry and Stacey Powers, a mother and daughter are regulars in the thrift store, walked out with three full bags of groceries that included three loaves of bread and numerous boxes of Sarah Lee cupcakes. In all, the Powers spent $17.

“In this time and age, you have to shop where you can save money,” Stacey Powers said. “You have to. All of this would’ve cost more than $30 in a grocery store.”

Dave Cozad of Colorado Springs, who visits his mother in Mesa and stocks up on fruit and vegetables at the Superstition Ranch Market to put in the freezer, echoed Powers’ sentiments.

“This is less than half of what we pay there,” Cozad said. “Here, green peppers are four for $1, at home, they’re $1 apiece. We thought we had $40 worth of stuff, and it came to $21. We don’t go out for supper much, and we stick to the basics.”

As Robert Green, a Mesa bus driver, was loading groceries in his car after shopping at Walmart at Mesa Riverview, he said he is simply cutting back and checks out Fry’s, Food City and Walmart since they’re all within a five-mile radius of his house.

“I’ve only been getting things I need,” said Green, who was shopping with a friend. “We were just talking about the high prices and how we’re going to have to eat only one meal a day.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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