So you’ve probably heard that food prices are going up. But what a lot of Americans want to know is how exactly they will be affected. The drought that has ripped through this summer’s Midwestern corn crop will soon cause food prices to increase across the board. But instead of just giving in to the price spikes, there are ways Americans can take control of their spending.
To give you an idea of just how widespread the use of corn is in this country, about 75% of the food on supermarket shelves contains some form of corn. It’s the most widely grown crop in America and has found its way into a lot more products than you may realize, often indirectly through ingredients like corn syrup.
Forbes found some products containing corn that may surprise you:
- Toothpaste – Toothpaste uses Sorbitol, which usually comes from corn, to give toothpaste its flavor and texture.
- Yogurt – Contains high fructose corn syrup.
- Salad Dressing – Contains high fructose corn syrup.
- Gum – May contain high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol or Maltitol.
- Make Up – Blush and eye shadow may contain “zea mays” or “zea mays starch,” which is corn’s binomial name.
- Milk – Cows eat corn and the milk you drink has vitamin D containing corn.
- Shampoo & Conditioner – Contains citric acid and a lot of commonly used citric acid is derived from corn.
- Diapers – Some eco-friendly diapers use cornstarch to keep a baby’s bottom dry.
- Cola – Contains high-fructose corn syrup and products like Coke and Pepsi get an extra dose of corn from caramel coloring.
- Adhesives – Envelopes close thanks to that sticky stuff known as nitrocellulose glue, which contains corn.
- Perfume – Most are based in grain alcohol, which often comes from corn.
- Aspirin – It’s coated in cellulose microcrystalline, which is derived from corn.
Corn is arguably the most important crop in this country. In fact, the United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn and delivers to various countries around the globe. Some argue the widespread use of corn has allowed for American agriculture to become a more than $80 billion industry, while others say the crop’s power, and our dependence on it, is damaging to our culture, health, and now the economy.
What’s going on is the lack of rain has caused crops to produce fewer kernels of corn. And when corn is everywhere, and in nearly everything, the loss is big. High-fructose corn syrup sweetens almost everything from granola bars to yogurt to sodas. So when prices start to spike, avoiding a higher grocery bill won’t be easy. But HLN Money Expert Clark Howard says there are things consumers can do to fight inflation when it hits the shelves.
Look for 'price per unit'
A lot of food manufacturers have camouflaged increased grocery prices by putting less of the product in a smaller package and then charging the same price, hoping you won’t notice. Shoppers should look beyond the packaging and check the label to see what how much product you’re paying for. For example, one jar of peanut butter may cost 19 cents per ounce, while one on the shelf below costs 15 cents per ounce. Depending on the product and brand, the prices can vary a lot, so checking labels can save you a lot over time.
Do-it-yourself snack bags
“Snack-size” packages can also fool you. So instead of buying the overpriced small items with a lot of packaging, buy full-size bags of chips, carrots or whatever snack and make your own snack bags using plastic baggies. This little bit of extra work can cost about 30% less than buying the small “snack-size” products.
Substitute the beef
The price of ground beef jumped more than 8% from June 2011 to June 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But knowing which products are more expensive these days can help you fight inflation and find alternatives. Fish and pork prices haven’t gone up like the prices of beef and poultry, so substituting variations of other meats and fish will save you some money. Also trading in high-priced meats and fish for frozen, processed or canned varieties will be less expensive. Buying in bulk, for example at warehouse clubs like Costco, may get you a discount on how much you’re paying for higher-priced meats. So do some shopping around to really get the best savings.
Restaurant gift certificates/coupons
Restaurant deals are everywhere, you just have to do your part and look for them (not like they are hard to find). Gift certificates available online can save you a ton when dining out. Sites like Restaurant.com sell gift cards for restaurants at deep discounts. For example, you can find $25 gift certificates for only $2 to $5 each! Just search for restaurants in your area and when you find one you want, you can print it instantly or send via e-mail. Deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial can be great too, as long as you actually use any deal you purchase. Free smartphone apps like Yowza and Coupon Sherpa help you find coupons for restaurants and groceries that are available instantly on the app. A good idea is to check online or check the mobile apps on your smartphone before you head out the door, and then just let the deal decide where your family has dinner that night.
Buying fruits and vegetables when they are in season is the best way to save. When something isn’t in season, it’s usually more expensive because it has to be shipped from somewhere on the other side of the world. Buying frozen variations can also save you a good bit of money on produce. But knowing which fruits and vegetables are in season will help you save by helping you decide what to buy when you’re at the store. Check out this the season for different fruits and vegetables on the Better Health Foundation’s Fruits & Veggies More Matters website.
Stock up on sale items
Stockpiling large amounts of things that last a while, like nonperishable groceries and toiletries, when they are on big-time sale is a great way to get the best bang for your buck. Just don’t forget you need somewhere to store everything!
Be a smart shopper
Grocery sales are everywhere, but that doesn’t mean they’re all great deals. Check for weekly deals and if you’re a loyal brand customer, it may be time to try out some generic and store brands. And if you haven’t been to a dollar store in a while, well they aren’t what they used to be. The biggest dollar-store chains have revamped not only their image, but the products they offer. Planning out your trip to the store will help you avoid unnecessary purchases. Using grocery coupon apps can help you not only plan your shopping list, but these tools can help you find the best deals on items you’re looking for at stores in your area. Check out some apps Clark recommends for trimming the grocery bills.