Shoppers probably noticed that the cost of tomatoes, fresh vegetables,...

Shoppers probably noticed that the cost of tomatoes, fresh vegetables, coffee, eggs, pork and seafood rose in January.(Feb. 16, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

Higher grocery prices helped drive up inflation 0.3 percent in the greater New York area in January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday.

The uptick followed two months of flat prices in the region that includes Long Island.

The 1.5-percent increase for food at home was the largest monthly increase since January 2007. Groceries that cost more in January included coffee, fresh vegetables, pork, seafood and eggs.

Energy also went up 1.5 percent. That followed a 2.9-percent increase in December.

However, residential rent dropped 0.3 percent, the largest over-the-month dip since April 1994.

The local January consumer price index rose 1.5 percent compared to a year ago. Gasoline prices shot up 15.1 percent from the previous year.

Nationwide, inflation crept up 0.4 percent in January compared to December.

Driven by energy and food price increases, January's consumer price index was up 1.6 percent compared with a year ago.

Costs for groceries nationally showed the largest increase in more than two years.

Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, said the national 2-percent food increase was "moderate," but considering that prices were actually declining by 2 percent a year ago, it was a 4-percent swing. Balzer called the movement "worrisome."

With restaurant prices not rising as quickly, he said, a shopper emerging from a supermarket holding two bags wondering "Where did that $100 go?" may "start thinking it's cheaper to eat out."

The increase in food prices isn't as stark as it was in 2008, Balzer said, when it was rising about 7 percent.

The gasoline index rose 3.5 percent, the seventh monthly hike in a row. Fuel oil went up 6.8 percent.

Meanwhile, prices for vehicles - both new and used - declined.

In separate data released Thursday, consumer confidence for last week remained near a two-month low.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index was minus 43.4 in the period ended Feb. 13, compared with minus 46 the prior week.

Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed said the economy will worsen, the most since November and up from 23 percent in early January.

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