August 23, 2008

Prices of Pasta May Finally Be Leveling Off


Pasta prices have risen steadily over the last year, affecting consumer pocketbooks but helping Arizona agriculture.

And those prices aren't likely to come down much, though they may finally be leveling off.

The main ingredient in most pasta is durum wheat, a major crop in Arizona.

In fact, for the first time since the 1970s, we have more wheat acreage than cotton in our state, said Julie Murphree, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation.

"This little desert state grows a lot of wheat for pasta," Murphree said.

More specifically, this year Arizona produced about 14.5 million of the 70 million to 80 million bushels of durum wheat used in the United States, said Eric Wilkey, president of Casa Grande-based Arizona Grain Inc., a privately held grain company.

Crop failures and reductions in other parts of the world created more demand than supply this year, causing prices to go up, he said.

"As the wheat costs more, pasta's going to be higher in price," Wilkey said.

He noted that farmers' costs have been higher this year because of increased fuel and fertilizer prices, but those have already begun to moderate somewhat.

Even so, long-term buying agreements between pasta retailers and their distributors - which likely have buffered consumers from much of the actual market increases - will probably keep prices from going back down dramatically.

Murphree said farmers themselves are the best at bringing prices down because when one commodity starts bringing in lots of money, others jump on the bandwagon and oversupply the market.

Wilkey said that as long as fuel prices stay high, grain prices will not be what they were two or three years ago. But supply and demand do play a large part.

"Every year, the farmer has a chance to change the amount of grain that he plants," Wilkey said.


Food City

* La Perla pasta, 7 oz., select varieties, 3 for $1.


* American Beauty pasta, 24 oz., 3 for $5.

* Ronzoni Healthy Harvest or Smart Taste pasta, 12 to 14.25 oz., select varieties, 3 for $5.


* Will match competitors' ads.


Average price of Barilla 16-oz. spaghetti

Sept. 10, 2006: $1.11

Sept. 23, 2007: $1.33

July 1, 2008: Barilla reported raising prices 40 percent in the last 18 months.

Source: Arizona Daily Star annual grocery price survey, Reuters

* Contact reporter Shelley Shelton at 434-4086 or [email protected]


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