For the first time in several quarters, Arizona retail food prices at the supermarket decreased in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the latest Arizona Farm Bureau Federation Marketbasket Survey. The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 basic grocery items was $54.75, down 4.7 percent or $2.71 from the third quarter of 2008. Comparatively, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s national survey was $48.19, down about 1 percent or 49 cents during the quarter.

Of the 16 items surveyed in Arizona, eleven decreased, three increased, and two remained the same price compared to the 2008 third-quarter survey. The national survey shows 11 decreased and five increased. While Arizona’s overall marketbasket is still higher than the national average, Arizona’s marketbasket dropped 4.7 percent in the fourth quarter compared to national’s 1 percent drop.

One year ago, the Arizona marketbasket was at $49.20 — this reflects a one year increase of about 11 percent.

To access an entire menu focused on those food items down in price in the fourth quarter and designed around stretching your food dollar, go to www.fillyourplate.org. Look for the “Stretch Your Food Dollar” menu and the additional food savings tips.

Corn and vegetable oil showed the largest retail price increases. A 32-oz jar of corn oil and vegetable were both up 37 cents to $4.52 and $4.32 respectively. The other item that increased in price was a 5-pound bag of potatoes up 30 cents to $3.69.

In Arizona, milk showed the greatest decrease in price down 88 cents to $3.07 per gallon; cheddar cheese was down 70 cents to $4.89 per pound; eggs were down 46 cents to $1.79 a dozen; red delicious apples down 42 cents a pound to $1.47; a 32-oz jar of mayonnaise down 36 cents to $3.99; bacon and whole fryers were both down 20 cents a pound to $3.69 and $1.59 respectively; ground chuck also down 20 cents a pound to $3.69; toasted oat cereal down 16 cents to $2.99 an 8-9 oz box; sirloin tip roast down 14 cents a pound to $4.85; and center cut pork chops down 3 cents a pound to $4.92.

“If you look at the items down in price, the majority are non-processed food items,” says Kevin Rogers, Arizona Farm Bureau President. “You can find the greatest value in those food items with the least amount of processing or manufacturing inputs. These also happen to be the food items reflecting the highest farmer share. A good thing.”

Prices remained the same on a 5-pound bag of flour for $3.69 and a 20 oz loaf of white bread for $1.59.

Once retail food prices go up, they tend to stay up longer than some other consumer items, an economic concept known as “sticky prices.”

“Despite the recent collapse in oil prices and steep declines in farm commodity prices, overall food prices have not yet declined significantly and may not for quite some time,” says Jim Sartwelle, American Farm Bureau Federation economist. “Sticky prices, once a somewhat obscure economic concept to most food consumers, are the new reality as we move into 2009.”

If the new year brings lower global demand for U.S. commodities as the world economic turmoil continues, retail food prices may moderate somewhat, according to Sartwelle.

While retail grocery prices have gradually increased, the share of the average food dollar that America’s farm and ranch families receive has dropped over time. “In the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures on average. That figure has decreased steadily over time and is now just 19 percent, according to Agriculture Department statistics,” explains Sartwelle.

Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the Arizona farmer’s share of this quarter’s $54.75 marketbasket total would be $10.40.

Even with increased food prices, Americans annually spend approximately 10 percent of their disposable income on food, the lowest average of any country in the world.

The Farm Bureau Marketbasket Survey is unscientific, but serves as a gauge of actual price trends across the state. Bargain shoppers statewide should find individual items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages and certainly cheaper with discounts and in-store specials. Arizona Farm Bureau seeks to identify the best in-store price, excluding promotional coupons and special deals.