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1:27 PM Wed, Sept. 19th

FEEDING THE FAMILY: As food prices go down, grocery shopping is still all about the deals

Rebekah Kleinman and JoAnne Chaffeur have different size families – Kleinman has six and Chaffeur has four with three living in the home – but both consider themselves frugal shoppers eager to find the best prices on ingredients that enable them to still make nutritious meals.

The Arizona Farm Bureau Federation reported this week what could be good news for these Prescott mothers when it comes to the price of chicken and eggs, and other staple items that have dropped in price from as little as four cents for toasted oat cereal to $1.03 for shredded cheddar cheese.

Egg prices are down some 86 cents from a year ago when the high was over $3, although the price is not as low as three months ago when a dozen were selling for $1.69.

Boneless chicken breasts that spiked at about $4.36 three months ago are now selling for about $2.48 a pound.

Kleinman said she appreciates most the drop in egg prices because her family with four young children between the ages of 3 and 10 eat about four dozen eggs a week. The family has chickens to lay eggs, but they cannot meet her family’s demand that includes eggs for breakfast, hard-boiled eggs for snacks and lots of eggs for baked goods. She, too, appreciates that cheddar cheese has dropped in price as that is also a popular household item.

“I haven’t seen a significant change in my grocery bill, but every bit helps,” Kleinman of her family that prefers home-cooking and home entertaining to dining out other than for special occasions.

Kleinman’s monthly bill averages about $800 a month – the family last year went in with other relatives to buy a cow that enabled them to get high-quality beef at far better prices than they would be able to achieve even with some of the small reductions in ground beef and sirloin roasts.

Chaffeur is a devoted coupon clipper who produces a certain amount of vegetables from her garden. Still, she said her monthly food bill, between groceries and dining out a couple times a week based on son’s Prescott High School athletic schedule, averages about $600 a month.

Like Kleinman, Chaffeur said she has noticed better egg prices as that is the one food everyone in her family of diverse dietary interests will eat. A vegetarian, Chaffeur said she does not eat chicken or meat and so cannot speak to the drop in those prices, although her husband and son consume those foods.

The Bureau said the price reduction in chicken is related to the fact that supplies decimated by the need to kill millions because of avian flu are now back to where they were before last year’s outbreak.

As for lower prices in other staple food products – the bureau said prices for a list of 16 staple items that range from Red Delicious apples to white bread have dropped from $51.20 in the first quarter of this year to $48.72 in the third quarter, the lowest since the middle of 2013.

Those reductions are rooted in supply and demand, bureau officials said.

“The global market, China, Russia, India, their demand in certain agriculture commodities continues to be soft,” said Bureau spokeswoman Julie Murphree. “And we’re, as we say in the ag community, long on supplies. That’s why you’re seeing across the board this decrease in food prices, which is really good for you and I.”

The Yavapai County Food Bank in Prescott Valley that serves about 600 families a week has seen a rise in donations of certain non-perishable goods as well as with eggs and chicken. Office manager Lynn Passfield said it is likely that their food donations follow cost trends, such that they will get things that tend to be at lower cost than higher priced foods. Unlike some food banks that only provide their clients with non-perishable items, Passfield said they have the ability to freeze meat and chicken and keep on hand dairy products. So donations of eggs, milk, orange juice and cheese are much appreciated by families who might otherwise be unable to afford those items.

Whole milk sales are now about $2.27 a gallon versus 2.42 a gallon last year, the bureau said. A half gallon of orange juice is $2.92 rather than $3.38 at the same time last year.

The bureau’s reports are based on the prices their shoppers encounter at local markets around the state, but do not reflect special sales, coupons or other discounts given to shoppers with store cards.

Grocery shopping is one of those unavoidable, family essentials, and both Chaffeur and Kleinman appreciate any discounts they can find. But like gasoline costs, the ups and downs, are often do not grab significant notice until they either plummet or skyrocket.

That doesn’t mean they won’t welcome a deal.

The preference in Chaffeur’s household now is for high-quality, generally, organic food. And she will abide by those wishes.

“But I’ll still look for the best price. I can’t help myself,” she said.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this article.