The mystery of the price of bread: Not everything is cheaper in America and I can't understand why that might be.iStock

Recently I've been spending more time in America than I have for most of the last 25 years. Generally during my years living in Ireland I've noticed that things are much cheaper in America than they are in Ireland. Gasoline, clothes, laptops and other electrical items – all sorts of consumer goods are cheaper in America than they are in Ireland, often by quite a bit.

This is common knowledge in Ireland, although the amount of savings depends on the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro. Everyone I know or even just meet talks to me about how much they saved on their leather jacket or iPhone or whatever during their trip to America. 'Everything is just cheaper in America' has been a common theme in my conversations throughout my time in Ireland.

Yet, not everything is cheaper in America. As I've been learning recently some items are a lot cheaper in Ireland and I can't understand why that might be.

If we were talking about dairy products or beef I'd say, 'Well, that makes sense.' Ireland has the perfect climate for those industries and milk and beef should be cheaper there. But they're not. Not really. The supermarket prices for milk and beef are comparable, although I think Irish dairy & beef products are better at the low price range than are similar American products.

I'm aware that America is huge and the prices may vary wildly from region to region, but I have been surprised by some of the prices in the supermarkets where I've been in upstate NY. Fruit is difficult to compare, but my sense is that some fruits and vegetables – oranges especially – are cheaper in Irish supermarkets.

As to the quality, well, as I said, comparing fruit and vegetables even from one week to the next or one store to the next can be tricky enough. Comparing fruit for sale in stores separated by an ocean is even harder. Overall I'd say that the fruit and vegetables are better in America, but not every fruit or every vegetable, not every time and not everyone would agree with me anyway.

Forget about the fruit and vegetables. What's with the price of jam (jelly) and marmalade? Again, I'm only talking about the cheapest item on the shelves because the price of jams seems to have no maximum in either country.

The cheapest strawberry jam I've found is about $1.80 for a 1 lb jar. Raspberry jam is a little more, around $2.10. Orange marmalade is somewhere between those two. In Ireland I can get any one of those jams for €1 ($1.10 or so). And the quality of those €1 jars of jam isn't bad, but I don't like the fact that they all come from Germany.

The biggest surprise to me, however, has been the price of bread. When I was in school we learned about how America was “the breadbasket of the world.” I know they're still growing wheat across the middle of the country so what can it be that makes the price of bread so much more than in Ireland?



The cheapest loaf of bread I've seen sells for $1.38 in Wal-mart. That's for a 20oz (567 gm) Walmart's brand own loaf. A 20oz loaf of Wonder Bread or Sunbeam is $2.48. In Ireland I can get a loaf of bread at any of the local supermarkets for €0.69 ($0.75). Again, that's the store's own brand, but it's for an 800gm (28oz) loaf of bread. The loaf in Wal-mart costs me 6.9¢ per ounce, whereas the loaf in my local Tesco costs me 2.7¢ per ounce.



The situation is similar for brand name breads. An 800gm loaf of Brennan's or Irish Pride will cost me about €1.50 ($1.65). The Irish brand name bread is more than 50% cheaper than the American brand name bread.

I realize that they're not exactly the same foods. I prefer the Irish bread, but others may not. Also, an Irish loaf will start to go moldy after about two days whereas an American loaf seems to last two weeks. {I'm not sure that I want to know why an American loaf of bread lasts so long.}

Regardless, I'd love to know why bread costs so much more in America than it does in Ireland. Maybe Irish supermarkets sell it as a loss leader, maybe Irish people eat significantly more bread, maybe the costs of production and/or distribution are higher in America.

I have no idea what the issue might be. It's just a curiosity for me. Still, it's proof that not everything is cheaper in America.