Peanut butter has been a staple for frugal food lovers for years, but a looming price increase could make it more of a luxury item before the end of the year.

Facing shortages after a dismal peanut harvest, producers have begun implementing steep price hikes, and consumers will start feeling the pinch this week — adding to a general rise in the cost of food throughout 2011. 

So, how much more can you expect to shell out for a jar of peanut butter? That will depend on your favorite label, but all the leading companies plan significant jumps, including Kraft, owners of the Planters brand (40 percent), Peter Pan makers ConAgra (20 percent), and J.M. Smucker (30 percent).

Much as consumers might grumble about the higher prices, in this case it’s a simple matter of supply and demand. This year’s poor harvest has spiked the cost of a ton of peanuts, sending it from $450 a year ago to almost $1,200 this month.

Unfortunately, industry insiders don’t see any relief in sight. Chris Brand, a spokesman for the Giant food chain, admitted that the “outlook does not look good until next year’s crop is harvested and produced.” Publix spokesperson Maria Brous admitted that she expects further food price increases “as the cost of goods continue[s] to rise.”


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