Food Prices

May 10, 1972

Report Outline
Furor Over Higher Cost of Groceries
Farmer's Share of the Food Dollar
Role of Supermarkets and Suppliers
Directions of Consumer Food Prices
Special Focus

Furor Over Higher Cost of Groceries

Flurry of Concern After Step Rise in Feburary

A one-cent increase in the price of bread can cause more dismay among consumers than a $100 rise in the cost of a new automobile. With the possible exception of unemployment, no other economic factor means more to the American household than the food component of the monthly Consumer Price Index. When food prices rose 2 per cent in February, they became the topic of newspaper headlines, the subject of congressional hearings and the source of new attacks on the Nixon administration's handling of the economy. The neighborhood supermarket was being viewed as a battleground for the presidential election campaign.

President Nixon blamed the “middleman” when he commented on rising food prices at an impromptu news conference at the White House on March 24, the day after the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the February increase. Treasury Secretary John B. Connally met soon afterward with executives of 12 large retail food store chains to urge them to control further price rises. In April, hearings on the cost of food, particularly meat, were held by the Price Commission and by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock and Grains. While there was no broad-based consumer protest, such as the housewife boycott of food stores in 1966, there were small pockets of consumer action and rumors of larger ones to come.

Whether from the impact of these events or other conditions, food prices increased only one-tenth of one per cent in March and appeared to be leveling off for the next few months. According to one point of view, the jawboning, publicity and stirring of consumer protest were minor influences. It was noted that wholesale prices had already begun to decline toward the end of February but had not quite had time to affect retail prices.

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