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Slicing through fruit price volatility

By Stephen B. Reed

Fruit prices are particularly ripe for analysis as they are free of some of the complexities of other price data. They are relatively undifferentiated; the average price of a banana is well defined in a way that the average price of a new vehicle or hospital services is not. There are not complicated quality change issues to worry about; grapes from 2014 are easily comparable with grapes from 2004 (unlike, for instance, televisions or computers). Fruit is frequently purchased and familiar to most consumers, so it is easy to put the price data into context. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently produces average price measures for a number of different fruits. There are seven for which reasonably continuous data are available for the past 10 years:

  • Apples (Red Delicious)
  • Bananas
  • Oranges (navel)
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes (Thompson seedless)

Indexes, rather than average prices, are the official measure of price change in the CPI; however, it is still interesting to analyze the average price data, which is the focus of this article. All seven fruits have risen in price over the past decade. However, the rate of increase has varied significantly; lemon prices have risen more than twice as quickly as banana prices. (See table 1.)

By comparison, the All Items CPI has increased 25.3 percent over the period, a 2.28-percent annual increase. So, all the fruits except bananas have increased more rapidly than the overall price level. Strawberries have been the most expensive fruit on a per-pound basis throughout virtually the entire period.1

Bananas have been the cheapest and have shown the slowest increase. Lemons have increased the most, though that is partly due to sharp increases over just the last few months of 2014. (See chart 1.)

 

Table 1. Price levels and trends, average price in dollars per pound Sept. 2004—Sept. 2014
Fruit Price Percent change
Sept. 2004 Sept. 2014 Total Annualized
Apples 1.085 1.403 29.3 2.60
Bananas 0.488 0.606 24.2 2.19
Oranges 1.142 1.486 30.1 2.67
Grapefruit 0.895 1.224 36.8 3.18
Lemons 1.470 2.355 60.2 4.83
Strawberries 2.457 3.437 39.9 3.41
Grapes 1.605 2.173 35.4 3.08

View Chart Data

Chart 1. Average fruit prices, 2004–2014
Date Apples Bananas Oranges Grapefruit Lemons Grapes Strawberries

Sep 2004

1.085 0.488 1.142 0.895 1.470 1.605 2.457

Oct 2004

0.992 0.485 1.111 0.976 1.380 2.346 3.467

Nov 2004

0.985 0.469 1.080 0.951 1.173 2.768 4.247

Dec 2004

0.950 0.474 0.865 0.950 1.159 3.093 4.803

Jan 2005

0.966 0.485 0.838 0.975 1.143 2.706 4.312

Feb 2005

0.974 0.502 0.802 0.986 1.334 1.883 3.128

Mar 2005

0.920 0.507 0.783 0.959 1.307 1.514 2.503

Apr 2005

0.869 0.503 0.816 0.983 1.350 1.869 2.035

May 2005

0.915 0.497 0.899 1.039 1.405 2.506 2.303

Jun 2005

0.974 0.493 1.012 1.147 1.455 1.894 2.351

Jul 2005

0.965 0.494 1.118 1.203 1.481 1.929 2.411

Aug 2005

0.977 0.487 1.234 1.202 1.537 1.701 2.409

Sep 2005

0.967 0.485 1.363 1.208 1.485 1.662 2.861

Oct 2005

0.940 0.491 1.388 1.183 1.465 2.022 2.917

Nov 2005

0.955 0.480 1.172 1.138 1.459 2.497 2.992

Dec 2005

0.971 0.482 0.885 1.095 1.509 2.757 3.555

Jan 2006

0.963 0.490 0.837 1.081 1.435 2.590 3.215

Feb 2006

0.977 0.508 0.915 1.086 1.399 2.015 2.641

Mar 2006

0.935 0.508 0.888 1.052 1.419 1.864 2.423

Apr 2006

0.958 0.508 0.876 1.029 1.384 1.757 2.277

May 2006

1.021 0.514 0.990 1.091 1.451 2.395 2.312

Jun 2006

1.053 0.511 1.119 1.128 1.441 2.478 2.200

Jul 2006

1.146 0.508 1.270 1.168 1.438 2.534 2.345

Aug 2006

1.235 0.492 1.483 1.197 1.540 1.821 2.405

Sep 2006

1.256 0.479 1.453 1.228 1.650 1.846 2.692

Oct 2006

1.138 0.489 1.423 1.235 1.775 2.230 3.207

Nov 2006

1.089 0.498 1.200 1.099 1.754 2.536 3.083

Dec 2006

1.027 0.499 0.958 0.974 1.662 2.891 3.865

Jan 2007

1.034 0.505 1.092 0.940 1.710 2.591 3.385

Feb 2007

1.072 0.507 1.375 0.901 1.948 1.989 3.479

Mar 2007

1.068 0.510 1.301 0.920 1.845 1.763 3.052

Apr 2007

1.104 0.517 1.243 0.888 1.791 1.957 2.289

May 2007

1.112 0.503 1.268 0.917 1.751 2.748 2.483

Jun 2007

1.130 0.512 1.321 0.970 1.766 2.035 2.375

Jul 2007

1.184 0.509 1.500 0.979 1.765 1.778 2.223

Aug 2007

1.194 0.506 1.501 0.992 1.796 1.701 2.440

Sep 2007

1.178 0.505 1.503 1.032 1.819 1.612 2.672

Oct 2007

1.083 0.508 1.542 1.144 2.015 2.114 3.045

Nov 2007

1.103 0.515 1.079 0.982 2.029 2.721 3.705

Dec 2007

1.121 0.525 0.905 0.906 2.048 3.047 4.092

Jan 2008

1.161 0.521 0.905 0.854 2.025 3.411 4.032

Feb 2008

1.176 0.540 0.887 0.898 1.951 2.219 3.761

Mar 2008

1.209 0.597 0.898 0.859 1.919 1.936 2.764

Apr 2008

1.205 0.627 0.931 0.883 1.968 2.282 2.369

May 2008

1.254 0.630 1.008 0.907 2.004 2.530 2.441

Jun 2008

1.362 0.633 1.136 1.005 2.157 2.062 2.544

Jul 2008

1.452 0.627 1.291 1.051 2.143 1.875 2.507

Aug 2008

1.580 0.634 1.452 1.076 2.184 1.800 2.780

Sep 2008

1.584 0.631 1.471 1.103 2.179 1.707 2.903

Oct 2008

1.417 0.629 1.428 1.080 2.095 1.972 3.093

Nov 2008

1.259 0.626 1.055 0.968 1.826 2.289 3.396

Dec 2008

1.179 0.617 0.934 0.907 1.616 2.459 4.012

Jan 2009

1.233 0.629 0.896 0.794 1.541 2.169 3.484

Feb 2009

1.191 0.641 0.912 0.750 1.433 1.987 3.263

Mar 2009

1.195 0.634 0.889 0.740 1.342 1.803 2.760

Apr 2009

1.202 0.629 0.910 0.789 1.390 1.894 2.465

May 2009

1.147 0.622 0.963 0.869 1.392 2.431 2.299

Jun 2009

1.183 0.617 1.060 0.931 1.445 2.190 2.260

Jul 2009

1.193 0.616 1.191 0.993 1.590 1.915 2.185

Aug 2009

1.217 0.611 1.222 1.024 1.584 1.615 2.384

Sep 2009

1.212 0.605 1.255 1.021 1.664 1.638 2.516

Oct 2009

1.129 0.598 1.262 1.025 1.634 2.009 2.803

Nov 2009

1.163 0.561 1.113 1.013 1.625 2.523 3.521

Dec 2009

1.114 0.571 0.932 0.881 1.600 3.137 3.628

Jan 2010

1.141 0.586 0.899 0.841 1.626 3.070 3.805

Feb 2010

1.153 0.587 0.870 0.832 1.586 2.236 3.600

Mar 2010

1.173 0.575 0.858 0.825 1.561 2.526 2.925

Apr 2010

1.200 0.580 0.871 0.839 1.580 2.070 2.223

May 2010

1.259 0.571 0.952 0.900 1.594 2.486 2.337

Jun 2010

1.262 0.577 1.096 0.956 1.597 2.081 2.312

Jul 2010

1.290 0.583 1.149 0.990 1.672 1.618 2.233

Aug 2010

1.305 0.576 1.242 0.974 1.664 1.489 2.452

Sep 2010

1.259 0.573 1.302 1.002 1.719 1.622 2.528

Oct 2010

1.180 0.580 1.281 1.018 1.757 1.805 2.793

Nov 2010

1.225 0.581 1.200 0.957 1.654 2.295 3.661

Dec 2010

1.196 0.587 1.021 0.994 1.601 2.871 4.097

Jan 2011

1.241 0.596 1.052 0.916 1.651 3.002 4.004

Feb 2011

1.311 0.625 0.989 0.880 1.670 2.393 3.223

Mar 2011

1.283 0.621 0.957 0.846 1.600 2.209 2.659

Apr 2011

1.345 0.621 0.926 0.856 1.544 2.196 2.421

May 2011

1.306 0.617 0.916 0.984 1.472 2.828 2.236

Jun 2011

1.317 0.614 1.014 1.055 1.465 2.378 2.151

Jul 2011

1.374 0.611 1.078 1.060 1.554 2.452 2.157

Aug 2011

1.529 0.606 1.268 1.080 1.626 2.033 2.392

Sep 2011

1.505 0.607 1.438 1.100 1.682 1.849 2.644

Oct 2011

1.409 0.607 1.386 1.094 1.598 2.079 2.747

Nov 2011

1.318 0.598 1.142 0.948 1.570 2.347 3.259

Dec 2011

1.266 0.599 0.983 0.891 1.536 2.860 3.313

Jan 2012

1.272 0.604 0.929 0.847 1.466 2.648 2.967

Feb 2012

1.282 0.603 0.852 0.876 1.485 2.294 2.721

Mar 2012

1.284 0.607 0.850 0.872 1.474 2.151 2.524

Apr 2012

1.257 0.603 0.910 0.937 1.517 2.687 2.409

May 2012

1.294 0.599 0.968 1.044 1.596 3.054 2.204

Jun 2012

1.377 0.605 1.032 1.172 1.626 2.617 2.275

Jul 2012

1.435 0.604 1.127 1.192 1.622 2.268 2.125

Aug 2012

1.504 0.595 1.283 1.261 1.678 1.961 2.279

Sep 2012

1.524 0.597 1.296 1.263 1.615 1.988 2.581

Oct 2012

1.435 0.602 1.254 1.270 1.604 2.340 2.687

Nov 2012

1.437 0.600 1.102 1.133 1.557 2.758 3.273

Dec 2012

1.424 0.606 1.035 1.071 1.534 3.085 3.835

Jan 2013

1.350 0.609 0.991 0.976 1.557 3.035 2.869

Feb 2013

1.433 0.611 0.998 0.992 1.415 3.148 2.527

Mar 2013

1.393 0.609 0.988 0.960 1.402 2.413 2.655

Apr 2013

1.330 0.597 0.981 0.953 1.416 2.452 2.379

May 2013

1.406 0.603 1.048 0.979 1.566 3.008 2.196

Jun 2013

1.382 0.603 1.147 1.053 1.553 2.533 2.248

Jul 2013

1.412 0.602 1.287 1.089 1.597 2.193 2.255

Aug 2013

1.428 0.595 1.377 1.106 1.714 1.821 2.556

Sep 2013

1.406 0.601 1.334 1.128 1.726 1.847 2.843

Oct 2013

1.384 0.586 1.328 1.153 1.728 2.111 3.078

Nov 2013

1.362 0.587 1.201 1.124 1.675 2.412 3.333

Dec 2013

1.343 0.592 1.129 1.066 1.632 2.568 3.820

Jan 2014

1.278 0.595 1.118 1.050 1.687 2.807 3.519

Feb 2014

1.309 0.599 1.146 1.002 1.667 2.872 2.816

Mar 2014

1.330 0.597 1.212 1.022 1.710 2.694 2.361

Apr 2014

1.356 0.597 1.261 1.021 1.743 3.059 2.284

May 2014

1.393 0.603 1.342 1.006 1.818 3.158 2.523

Jun 2014

1.393 0.607 1.299 1.075 1.867 2.465 2.451

Jul 2014

1.391 0.606 1.390 1.128 2.078 2.356 2.491

Aug 2014

1.404 0.608 1.467 1.156 2.327 2.132 2.624

Sep 2014

1.403 0.606 1.486 1.224 2.355 2.173 3.437

 

The chart illustrates the varying seasonality and relative price levels of the fruits, but the volatility makes it difficult to visually discern average price trends over the period. All the fruit prices increased over the 2004–2014 timespan. Note that bananas, though appearing virtually flat, increased in price about 24 percent over the period. Several of the fruits showed strong increases in the spring and summer of 2008, due to weather and rising gasoline prices, then declined into early 2009.

Seasonality

A quick look at the chart immediately conveys an impression of volatility. Much of the apparent volatility comes from the high degree of seasonality in several of the series. Strawberries, aside from being the most expensive fruit per pound, show the highest degree of seasonality. Strawberry prices typically peak in December at a level around two-thirds higher than their June trough. Grape prices also usually peak in December, though their trough is usually in August and September and the differential is not as great as for strawberries.  

Lemons and grapefruit show modest seasonality, with prices typically lowest in the spring and peaking in the fall. Oranges show a similar pattern, but with a sharper seasonal variation (typically around 50 percent) and an earlier trough, often in March.

Apple prices seem to peak around August, though the seasonality is very modest, with perhaps a 15-percent difference from trough to peak. Banana prices are exceptionally stable and show little seasonal variation.

Fruit by fruit

Apples (Red Delicious). Apples were slightly over $1 per pound through most of 2004 before falling under that figure late in the year.  They climbed back above $1 in 2006 and rose rapidly, reaching a peak of $1.58 in September 2008. They fell back to $1.14 only 3 months later, and have generally been between $1.20 and $1.50 since. As of September, they had been near $1.40 for the last 5 months.  

Bananas. Banana prices hovered around 50 cents through 2007, then climbed to a peak of around 64 cents in February 2009. They retreated to around 58 cents through late 2009 and 2010, then rose slightly and have since hovered very near the 60-cent mark.

Oranges (navel). Orange prices increased sharply early in the period, but have been relatively stable since 2006, with seasonal peaks in the $1.40s and troughs at slightly under $1 a pound. Orange prices actually peaked in 2007, though they have been at very nearly the same level for 8 years.

Grapefruit. Like oranges, grapefruit prices rose in 2005 and 2006, with the October 2006 seasonal peak of $1.24 over 25 percent higher than the October 2004 peak of $0.98. Prices then generally declined gradually through 2010, when the October peak was only $1.02. Prices have recovered since and are now very close to the 2006 peak.

Lemons. Lemon prices were fairly stable in 2004 and 2005, with seasonal peaks near $1.50. They rose sharply in 2007 and continued rising through 2008, peaking at $2.18 before giving ground in 2009 and 2010. Prices were stable for next few years, with seasonal peaks in the $1.60s. An upward trend was apparent in 2013 and has continued this year, with the September 2014 price of $2.355 setting a new high.

Grapes (Thompson seedless). Grape prices have been more volatile than those for citrus fruits, but showed some downward trend early in the period; after exceeding $3 in December 2004, they failed to reach that level again until 2008. Since then there has been some upward movement, with seasonal peaks around $3.10. The September 2014 level of $2.17 is the highest September figure in the series.

Strawberries. As noted, strawberries are very seasonal and volatile in price. Although the price shows nearly a 40-percent increase from September 2004 to September 2014, that is misleading, as the September 2014 price was up 31 percent from the previous month. The August 2014 figure was only about 8 percent above the August 2004 price, and the series actually peaked at $4.80 in December 2004. Since then, strawberry prices have typically been between $2 and $4 depending on the time of year.

 

1All of the average prices are published on a per-pound basis, except strawberries, which are published per 12 ounces. For this article, strawberry prices are converted to per-pound.

This Beyond the Numbers article was prepared by Stephen B. Reed, Economist in the Division of Consumer Prices and Price Indexes, Office of Prices and Living Conditions, Email: reed.steve@bls.gov, Telephone: (202) 691-6966.

Information in this article will be made available to sensory-impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (202) 691-5200. Federal Relay Service: 1-800-877-8339. This article is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

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Publish Date: Monday, December 22, 2014

Suggested citation:

Stephen B. Reed,   “Slicing through fruit price volatility,” Beyond the Numbers, vol. 3, no. 28 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec 2014), https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-3/slicing-through-fruit-price-volatility.htm (visited September 28, 2021).

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