Food & Beverage

Love this: Pricing out your Valentine’s dinner

California drought kills lovin' feeling for foodies

Creating the perfect Valentine's Day dinner may be priceless—but even the most hopeless romantic is wondering why their grocery bill for that special night can get so high.

"There's going to be a story behind all of these foods, and it's a slightly different story," said Richard Volpe, an economist with the Department of Agriculture.

Volpe expects that this year's Valentine's Day dinner won't be that much more costly than last year's, because food prices have remained relatively stable.

Enjoy it now, because the chef may not be so lucky in 2015. Inflation is expected to pick up a bit this year. In addition, drought in California and harsh weather in places the South could mean paying even more for your favorite foods.

Here's a look at the menu.


It's too late to plan ahead this year, but here's a pro tip for next year: Buy your sweetie's favorite wine in January.

A look at the government data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on wine prices (yes, there is such a thing) reveals that the average price of wine usually peaks in February.

That could be because people are choosing a more expensive wine to celebrate the holiday, said Corinne Alexander, an agricultural economist at Purdue University.

(Read more: High-tech V-Day gifts for your sweetheart)

A major drought in California could affect prices for specific wines in coming years. But in general, economists say, the wine market has become global enough that you'll likely be able to find a good wine at a reasonable price. You just may be sipping an Australian red instead of a California one.

"The price variation in wine is much more brand- [and] quality-related," Alexander said.

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Anyone who's taken Econ 101 knows that prices are generally set by supply and demand, and that is why your favorite red meat may be giving you a little sticker shock.

"The story with steak, and beef in general, is that beef prices are at or near record highs, even adjusting for inflation," said Volpe.

That's because more people around the world want to eat beef, but the supply is about the same as it was in the 1950s—for which we can blame the weak economy and two recent droughts, he said.

(Read more: Major storm may be a Valentine's Day buzzkill)

Beef lovers may get a little reprieve on prices short term, but that's not necessarily good news. Alexander said the Western drought may force some ranchers to slaughter some of their cows prematurely. That would lead to more beef now but lower supply—and higher prices—down the road.

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Romaine lettuce

If it seemed like you were suddenly paying a lot more for lettuce last year, that's because prices were rebounding from 2012, when unusually warm and wet weather led to more crops and lower prices, Volpe said. Things are back to normal.

The West's drought could affect lettuce prices in the coming year. American consumers would still be able to get lettuce from elsewhere, but it might cost a bit more.

Strawberries: The global economy has made it possible to have pretty much any type of produce at any time. That means strawberries in February are not nearly as luxurious as they once were, although you may pay more for them in the dead of winter than in early summer.

(Read more: Lovers with deep pockets: This for your valentine?)

Strawberries from California may be pricier or harder to come by, Alexander said. In that case, budget-conscious shoppers may look for another fruit.

"Maybe this year you eat more peaches or cherries or something else," she said.

Chocolate chip cookies

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stopped tracking the price of cupcakes in the mid-1980s but still keeps tabs on chocolate chip cookies.

In 2013, the average price actually fell a bit, which Volpe said was likely because of the drop in the price of sugar. That's because sugar producers had a bumper crop, helping to keep up with the rising demand for sweets in developing nations.

So far this year, he said, there's good news for people with a sweet tooth: Sugar prices don't appear to have risen.

Of course, there's a lot more than the cost of sugar that goes into sweets. Alexander noted that items such as labor costs, transportation and packaging make up a significant portion of the total cost.

There's also that old standby, supply and demand. If you really want to get a good deal on a chocolate heart, you might want to buy it on Feb. 15 instead.

—By CNBC's Allison Linn. Follow her on Twitter @allisondlinn and Google or send her an email.