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Some Mountain West states have the highest grocery prices in the nation

A woman with a shopping cart looks at the shelves full of dry food at a grocery story.
Nam Y. Huh
Associated Press
A woman checks prices as she shops at a grocery store in Wheeling, Ill., Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. In the Mountain West, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico are in the top 10 in the country when it comes to most expensive grocery prices.

Food costs stabilized in February, but several states in our region are among those with the highest grocery prices, according to a new report that analyzed data from a recent U.S. Census survey.

Nevada has the second highest grocery prices in the nation behind California, according to the HelpAdvisor report. Nevadans spend an average of almost $295 per week on groceries. New Mexico ($286.39 per week) is No. 6 on the list, and Colorado is No. 9 ($279.98 per week). The report said the national average is $270.21 spent per week on groceries.

HelpAdvisor's report looked at data from the U.S. Census Household Plus survey, which measured the average amount of money spent on food prepared and eaten at home for a two-week period in October 2023.

The report also looked at other demographic data from the U.S. Census when it comes to food spending. Other takeaways include:

  • People with less than a high school education report the highest weekly spending on food, $320/week.
  • Those with a high school degree or GED spend $275/week.
  • Those with college degrees spend $268/week.
  • Latino families report the highest average weekly spending on groceries at $325/week.
  • Military families on active duty spend an average of $305/week.

The report also showed that people who are currently struggling financially are paying 9% more for groceries every week than those who are not struggling to meet their financial obligations.

Food insecurity is having an impact on nonprofit food distributors, such as food banks. Three Square is Southern Nevada's only food bank. CEO Beth Martino said there's several contributing factors making it challenging for working families to make ends meet.

“Some of that is likely a result of people seeing some pandemic era benefits that were coming to an end," Martino said. "So there were some enhanced SNAP benefits to the federal food stamp program. There were some enhanced Medicaid benefits, and some of those things began to sunset at the outset of 2023. And so we did see a real spike in need in the early part of the year.

“But as we moved past that, what we have seen on a more continued basis is that we're hearing from the nonprofit organizations that we work with and that they're seeing more sustained need. And I think that probably reflects the fact that things are more expensive and people are working harder to try to stretch a dollar even further than they had to before the pandemic.”

Three Square Food Bank is also gearing up for summer, when access to school food programs may not be accessible.

“Those kiddos who are participating in a federal school breakfast and lunch program probably have folks in their households as well, beyond just the children that are food insecure,” Martino said.

But the quality of the food is also important. Staff and volunteers at Three Square are trained to help provide nutritional guidance.

“When we can’t get meat, we think about what are non-meat proteins we could get. So things like beans or any other kind of protein source that can still kind of fill or check that box,” Marino said, noting that some families have heads of households working more than one job, making convenient, less nutritious and more expensive meals an option they have to rely upon. “Sometimes it is easier to put a meal on the table and cheaper to put a meal on the table from fast food or some other source that may not always be healthy.”

Most food banks receive food to distribute through federal funding and donations. Three Square gets its food from donations, purchasing food, and government sources such as the Emergency Food Assistance Program. There are specific financial requirements to qualify for three Square Food Pantry access. Families already qualified for specific assistance such as the supplemental program for Women, Infants, and Children (also known as the WIC Program), school lunch programs and other federally-recognized assistance programs, can qualify for Three Square assistance. The food bank also has additional distribution pop-ups that are open now through the end of July.

The USDA also has a directory of programs that offer summer food assistance for children.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Yvette Fernandez is the regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau. She joined Nevada Public Radio in September 2021.

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