CHICAGO ? Although food companies and restaurant operators are trying to keep from increasing prices due to rising commodity and transportation costs, wary US consumers are bracing to pay more for their food in 2011.

Historically consumers have never let food costs rise faster than their incomes and have managed their food spending accordingly, whether choosing to eat at home or away from home, according to food market research by The NPD Group.

“With food inflation accelerating in the last months of 2010 and government forecasts show it continuing into at least the first half of 2011, Americans will be making well-thought out choices this year on how they will feed themselves,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at NPD and author of Eating Patterns in America. “It amounts to ‘relative food inflation.’ They have so much to spend on food and they will carefully pick-and-choose how they spend it. Looking for more coupons and discounts, buying more private label foods, eating more leftovers, and generally getting the most bang for their buck.”

Seventy-two percent of meals are prepared in homes, 18% are obtained from foodservice outlets, 8% are skipped and 2% are from unknown sources, according to NPD’s in-home research, National Eating Trends, and foodservice market research, CREST. During the past two years, US consumers pulled back on their use of restaurants, and the industry lost 2.4 billion visits from year ending November 2008 thru November 2010, from 61.5 billion visits to 59.1 billion visits.

During this period, food deflation gave supermarkets the edge in terms of consumer food spending. As the economy has begun to improve, Americans have started adding more restaurant visits back into their routines, but high unemployment continues to hamper the industry’s growth.

“Food prices so far are up less than 2% from the depressed year-ago levels, when they were dropping by 2%. Supermarket prices are still below the levels of 2008,” Balzer said. “This is really a story about the upheaval created by the 2008 food price increases. We have yet to see how it will play out this time.”