October 21/Los Angeles/Los Angeles Times-- Customers may be seeing the highest prices in years in grocery stores and restaurants, according to economist Bruce Grindy.

Wholesale food prices are “on pace to post their strongest annual increase in more than three decades,” wrote Grindy, chief economist for the National Restaurant Association trade group in a blog post.

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of food is already up 7.8% this year. The 0.6% jump from August to September was the fourth consecutive monthly increase in prices and the 13th in 15 months.

By the end of the year, prices could make their strongest gains since 1980, when costs soared 8.1%, Grindy wrote. If the trend holds, wholesale food prices will have soared 26% in five years.

Consumers will see the bulk of that price hike in grocery stores, where food items such as dairy, apples and eggs are 6.3% more expensive than they were 12 months ago. That is the largest swell in nearly three years.

However, restaurant menus are also reflecting the steep prices, which rose 2.6% over the same period.

 From the October 21, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.