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Salt Lake supermarket prices flat, gas goes up again

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Associated Press

The cost of groceries stayed mercifully flat in the Salt Lake Valley this month, according to the Deseret News' fantasy shopping spree. Despite gas prices that continue to escalate nationwide, the total price of a cart of groceries, a full tank and an outing was a mere 79 cents more expensive than last month's total.

Predictably, a smattering of grocery store items increased in price, including hamburger, orange juice and baby diapers. But some supermarket staples, like bread, bananas and laundry detergent, held steady at the identical prices they had on March 1.

The average cost of several goods from the shopping cart actually declined. Milk and corn were both slightly cheaper. Oreos were also less expensive than usual — sales in celebration of the chocolate sandwich cookie's 100th birthday continued at a number of stores. Almost every supermarket visited also offered sales on eggs, perhaps to attract shoppers stocking up for Easter festivities.

Discounts in the cart, however, were balanced by a spike in the tank. The price of gasoline jumped nearly 12 percent from just a month ago, when it increased by 7 percent. According the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, the national average price for gas is three cents more expensive than it was one week ago. And the cost of a full tank of gas has increased by nearly 40 percent since the Deseret News' first shopping trip in September 2009.

The Fuel Gauge Report attributes the jump to tight supplies and concerns about refineries around the country, some of which have recently closed, contributing to the upward pressure on prices. However, two of these refineries have prospective buyers, and if they re-open, the Report concluded in a press release, drivers may see some pressure on their wallets ease.

Since the Deseret News' first fantasy shopping spree, the total cost of the outing has increased by nearly 14 percent. In 2012, the price of groceries is expected to rise 2.5 to 3.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in defiance of this month's flat results.

The Deseret News embarks on a shopping trip every month, visiting five popular supermarkets across the Salt Lake Valley to find average prices of food staples in the area. Shoppers can compare these averages to the cost of their favorite store, though no establishment has a monopoly on highest or lowest prices. Because groceries aren't everything, the spree also includes the cost of a large takeout pizza and a trip to the movies, both of which were slightly less expensive this month.

EMAIL: lmarostica@desnews.com