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Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Oh marone! Pasta prices set to spiral higher

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Pasta prices could be getting molto caro soon if current trends hold up.

Though hopes are that a rising U.S. dollar will help bring down commodity prices, that's not the case all the way around.

One case where that is especially prevalent is with durum wheat, the key ingredient in most pasta making. The 2014 harvest looks to be weak in 2014, putting heavy pressure on a market that has shown consistent price movement higher.

David Maloni, president of the American Restaurant Association, explained Wednesday in his daily note titled, "Pasta buyers beware":

Most wheat futures markets have tested multi-year lows during the last several weeks. But that's not the case with spot durum wheat prices as you pasta buyers are painfully aware. The spot durum-wheat market has risen 38 (think: Michael Morse) percent during the last eight weeks. The culprit? The 2014 domestic durum-wheat harvest is estimated to be down 2 (think: Alcides Escobar) percent from last year and the third-smallest since 2002. Thus ... the USDA projects the available durum wheat supply to be historically small during the next year. There may still be further upside risk to durum wheat in the next several months, especially as supplies tighten next summer.

(The cultural references are World Series-related: Morse wears No. 38 for the San Francisco Giants, while Escobar is with the Kansas City Royals.)

The effects already have been felt at the supermarket.

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Prices generally in the "spaghetti and macaroni" category for the Bureau of Labor Statistics rose to $1.375 a pound in August, a 6.1 percent increase from a year ago but a 3.9 percent jump just over the previous month.

Better get used to it, according to Maloni, who said "pasta prices could be relatively volatile during the next year or two."

The news was even worse if you wanted a little meat with your pasta.

Steak prices rose across the board, with cuts outside prime or choice climbing 8 percent monthly and 21.6 percent annually. Sirloin steak was up 4.8 percent for the month and 24.9 percent year-over-year, even against a backdrop in which the government says consumer prices overall are nearly flat.

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A salad would have been a better bargain, with tomatoes falling 5.5 percent from July and broccoli down 8 percent.

However, a nice glass of vino would have wiped out any savings from veggies: Wine prices surged 13.1 percent on a monthly basis and 10.2 percent from the same time in 2014.