U.S. consumers face the second year in a row of unusually large price increases at the grocery store. This is due in part to surging oil prices that are boosting the cost of processing and shipping food.

Ephraim Leibtag, USDA food-price analyst, predicts that annual food prices may rise by as much as 3.5 percent from last year, when prices rose by 3.4 percent. During the last decade, food prices have risen an average of 2.5 percent annually.

Fresh fruit and vegetable prices are up more than 6 percent so far this year, says Leibtag. That marks the largest increase among food categories. Meat prices have been flat; with dairy prices trending down.

Last year’s price increase “was farm-level driven,’’ mostly by high milk prices and tight supplies of beef and soybeans. Farm-gate prices are down this year, so price increases are due to higher costs for processing and distribution, says Bob Young, economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

USDA has forecast a 2 percent to 3 percent rise in food prices into 2006, based on stable meat and dairy prices.

Higher food prices mean consumers will shop for bargains, especially in the meatcase. This could lead to shifts in meat-product demand, including pork.