• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Southland braces a rise in consumer prices

February 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Whether you go to the grocery store or the shopping mall, you've probably noticed the prices of just about everything are going up.

Not even the discount store will be immune to rising prices.

The increases come at a time when budgets are already stretched thin. From the pump to the sales rack to the grocery aisle, prices are going up despite the fact inflation remains low.

"We're already pushed to the max," said Yucaipa resident Lala Berk. "There is no spare money for anything."

So what's behind the rise in prices? For starters, the unrest in the Middle East and growing world demand has helped to fuel gas prices to its highest level in two years, up by 13.4 percent.

"If you put prices at the pump together with prices at the grocery store, that puts a lot of limits to what you can spend in our economy," said economist Diane Swonk.

At Green Thumb in Banning the wholesale grocery packer is seeing a lot more brown and wilted vegetables. Much of the winter crop it received from Mexico this time of year was damaged because of a freeze.

"This is the worst freeze that we've had in over 56 years," said Green Thumb manager Alan Demo. "I've never experienced anything like this before."

Bell peppers, zucchini and grape tomatoes, which use to go for $10 to $12 a box, now cost the wholesaler up to $50.

"You'll see prices in the grocery store double, triple, and they'll be times when you might not see the product in the grocery store at all," said Demo.

An estimated $4 billion worth of crops have been lost due to weather, the effects of which are already being felt by consumers.

"We've been reduced to eating hamburger and chicken legs, a lot of pasta that kind of thing," said Berk. "Not as many fresh fruit and vegetables as we would like because the prices are very high."

The Palm Springs School District has even stopped serving salads in its cafeterias.

"Due to the severe weather issues and cold temperatures, the lettuce crops have extreme shortages. This means that the availability of lettuce dramatically decreased," the district explained in a callout sent to parents.

Clothing prices are also on the rise because cotton prices have gone up.

But there is some relief on the horizon. Grocers say the growth cycle for most vegetables is between 60 to 100 days, which means we could see prices at the grocery store go down by April.