WSAZ Investigates | Dealing with inflation at the grocery store

WSAZ Investigates | Dealing with inflation at the grocery store
Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 7:15 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – With grocery prices putting a strain on most everyone’s wallets now, WSAZ’s Joseph Payton took a dive into the grocery store struggle to make a difference in your next shopping trip.

He shows how you can leave the store with the items on your list and some extra cash in hand.

Shopper Lisa Bell is among those who told us she’s feeling the price pinch – as much as $50 and higher during each grocery store visit.

“It adds up quickly,” Bell said. “Your typical grocery story shopping experience is painful, more now than it was a year ago.”

We found that the grocery shopping struggle is real, wearing on shoppers’ wallets and patience.

Payton hit the store to find out how much more you’re paying for groceries, if what you’re looking for is on the shelves, and if there is any science to saving money and finding what you need.

Bell is also shopping expert and health educator at West Virginia University, but even she feels sticker shock while walking through the aisles at grocery stores. While there’s no denying prices have gone up, just how much have they risen? We took old receipts from 2020 to several grocery stores and bought the same items to see just how much more you’re spending.

We found in 2020, a 100 pack of 10-inch paper plates cost $14.99. Today, the same pack is now $16.99. Canned corn was 65 cents in 2020. Now it’s 85 cents. In 2020, sour cream was $1.39. Now it’s 1.79. Butter in 2020 was $3.99. Now it’s $4.79.

Raisin Bran, a favorite for many, has gone from $2.29 in 2020 to $2.79 in 2022.

And for those of you with a sweet tooth - a gallon of generic brand ice cream went from $4.79 in 2020 to $6.99 now. So overall, the same six items costs a total of $28.10 in 2020. Now they cost $34.10 -- a 22% increase.

In all of Payton’s shopping, he found a couple of staple items for the most part aren’t costing you more. In fact, skim milk - actually went down in 2022. In 2020 you paid $2.99 for a gallon. Now it’s only $2.59. And a 16-ounce bag of shredded cheese was $6.99 in 2020. It’s still $6.99 today.

If you are struggling to find certain items, like biscuits, local grocery store owner Tim Forth said the shortage may come down to packaging.

“On the biscuit end, it’s a container problem,” said Forth, owner of FoodFair. “They can’t get the containers because plants are shut down because of a lack of staffing and so forth. They’re almost impossible to get.”

That’s not not all impacting the shelves. Forth said the main reason you can’t find everything you’re looking for is an issue affecting all industries.

“It’s not some greedy little guy in the backroom saying ‘what can I mark up tomorrow?’ That is not what’s happening,” Forth said. “Transportation is a big issue. People have seen what fuel prices have done. Let’s couple that with not enough trucks to deliver.”

So we asked a trucking company if the supply chain issues are here to stay.

“There’s not enough truckers, not even close,” said Jim Grundy, Owner of SISU Energy. “We’re short 150,000 truckers minimum. Refineries can’t refine fast enough, we can’t pump oil fast enough out of the ground.”

Grundy estimates it could take several years for the workforce to rebound and your shopping experience to return to normal. So we wanted to know in the meantime what you can do to save money and find what your family needs. First, it’s when you shop, according to Forth.

“Buy early, buy often, because it might be higher tomorrow,” he said.

Shoppers also tell us it’s important to have a plan before you go to the store and to do your homework.

“If you have the ability to go more than one place, definitely take advantage of those store rewards and sign up,” Bell said.

Most stores have an online app that allows you to check availability ahead of time. We checked several store apps at 9:30 in the morning that had several items in stock. And we checked that same day later in the afternoon - when certain kinds of pasta, and of course biscuits -- were scarce. Customer reward programs can also save you money that adds up.

“Once you hit the total button, if you don’t have coupons or a card to shrink that price some, it is very painful,” Bell said.

Some companies offer additional discounts by clipping coupons on your app. Make sure you check for deals in the mail and online. And consider shopping in bulk.

“And you can freeze things,” Bell said. “You can actually grab those things up if you think you’re not going to use them and freeze them for later.”

Experts say, if you look at the unit price, you’ll sometimes find it’s cheaper to buy in bulk. For example: we found a 32-ounce bag of cheese costs more up front, but it is much cheaper than buying multiple packages of smaller portions.

Lastly, if you can sacrifice name brand items, you’ll save some cash. After we shopped around we found name brand items were on average 50 percent higher than the total price of store brand items -- a noticeable difference when you check out.

“Just make sure you plan,” Bell said. “Planning is key to saving money.”

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