Supermarket prices for fresh fruits and vegetables fell for the second consecutive month, led by a plunge in tomatoes, reflecting further moderation of fresh produce inflation after harsh winter weather led to shortages of some items.
Average nationwide retail fruit and vegetable prices during May fell 1.9% from April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly Consumer Price Index June 15. April prices fell 1.3% from March.
The price declines reflect production returning near normal levels after freezing weather earlier this year killed crops in Arizona, Florida and Mexico, sending prices for some fruits and vegetables soaring. Tomatoes were a major factor in the recent declines, the bureau said, with prices tumbling 18% in May from April.
Among six food categories tracked by the bureau, fruits and vegetables were the only one to post a month-over-month price decline in May.
Fruit and vegetable prices are still up over last year’s levels, joining a food inflation upswing led by increasingly expensive beef, pork and milk that’s forcing Americans to spend more at the grocery store. Fresh produce inflation is on pace for the largest increase since 2008, according to a recent government forecast.
During May, fresh vegetable prices were up 3.9% from the same month in 2010, according to the CPI report. That marked a slowdown from year-over-year increases averaging 6.7% over the first four months of the year. But vegetable prices have still risen from year-earlier levels for 15 consecutive months.
Fresh fruit prices were up 0.9% in May, the fifth year-over-year increase in the past six months.
Among specific products, field-grown tomatoes averaged $1.79 a pound at retail nationwide last month, down from $2.27 in April and down from $1.92 in May 2010, according to CPI data. Iceberg lettuce averaged 96 cents a pound, down from $1.06 in March but up from 84 cents in May 2010.
Navel oranges averaged 92 cents a pound, down 1 cent from April and down 3 cents from May 2010. Red delicious apples averaged $1.31 a pound, down 4 cents from April and up 5 cents from May 2010.
A broader price index for food consumed at home rose 0.5 percent during May from April and was up 4.4 percent from May 2010, with all major grocery categories posting increases, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.