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Why is the price of US white bread up 13% during the pandemic?

A slice of pan white bread
Quartz
On the rise
  • Clarisa Diaz
By Clarisa Diaz

Things Reporter

While many Americans made their own bread at home during the COVID-19 pandemic—nurturing sourdough starters—retail bread prices were steadily rising, US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data of prices in urban areas show. While all white bread prices have risen 3.2% from January 2020 to March 2021, prices of pan white bread—the ubiquitous, rectangular on the bottom round on the top loaves—soared 12.95%.

Where bread prices have increased the most

The price increases haven’t been evenly spread across the country. Pan white bread prices in the northeast increased 27.4% from January to June 2020. By February 2021, the cost of pan white bread in the northeast went even higher, increasing another 9% and reaching its highest level since February 2012. Before the pandemic began, a pound of pan white bread cost $1.20 in the region and now costs around $1.60.

The midwest, where much of the US’s wheat is grown, also saw pan white bread prices rise in urban areas. Prices grew from $1.28 per pound before the pandemic to $1.45 in March, a 17% increase. The south and west regions of the US saw prices fall but loaves are still more expensive than before the pandemic.

Why the price of bread is going up

Higher logistics and labor costs due to COVID disruptions have most likely created higher costs of producing the bread which gets passed on to consumers through higher prices. “We are watching the potential for additional inflation for food as energy prices and labor costs continue to rise in conjunction with higher commodity volatility,” said Robb Mackie, president and CEO of the American Bakers Association.

Some of the recent rise can also be attributed to higher costs for commercial bread makers. While wholesale flour prices initially fell in the first half of 2020, they’re up 9.9% since August, the BLS’s producer price index shows.

Inflation is a growing concern in the US with the fear of basic products becoming more expensive. In the first three months of 2021, egg prices rose 10.8%, beans rose 1.8%, and tomato prices fell 8.3%, according to data recently released by the BLS. However, groceries are just one small component of the average US consumer’s spending. Since the beginning of the pandemic, all US prices are up 2.4% on average.

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