Food outlook for 1982: 'Buy when the price is right,' says expert

Supermarket checkouts this coming year shouldn't be as sobering as rising utility bills and soaring interest rates will be, because the food outlook is relatively good, according to Josephine Swanson, a Cornell University consumer educator.

Food costs will rise 7 to 9 percent in 1982, increasing less than energy and housing and staying in line with the overall inflation rate, forecast at 8 percent, Ms. Swanson predicted at the recent Economic Outlook Conference sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Marketing costs, which are expected to rise 10 percent, are responsible for about two-thirds of the retail price increases, she says, with fish and imported foods accounting for the rest. Consumers can also expect higher than average increases for pork and processed fruits and vegetables.

Americans spend an average of 16.6 percent of their disposable personal income on food, although some high-income families spend as little as 11 percent , and some low-income families spend up to 40 percent.

''In spite of these differences, the value of food consumed at home differs by only about 20 percent between the two groups,'' Ms. Swanson explains. ''In fact, the highest income group spends nearly one-third of its food money away from home, compared with less than 15 percent for the lowest income group.''

She points out that meals eaten out average $2.04, more than 2 1/2 times the cost of a meal prepared at home, which is 78 cents. Despite this price difference, more people than ever are eating out. Ms. Swanson explains that this is because of the relative increase in the number of one-person households, the development of the fast-food industry, and because more married women are in the labor force than in recent years.

What can consumers do to stretch their food dollars?

''Eat at home as often as possible, shop comparatively, and take advantage of roadside food stands, farmers' markets, and cooperatives,'' she recommends.

And by taking advantage of store specials, up to 15 percent of a family's money spent on food can be saved. ''Consumers should continue to sharpen their good shopping techniques - buy when the price is right,'' Ms. Swanson concludes.

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