Here’s Where a Spicy Tuna Roll Will Cost You the Most

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  • New York remains priciest, Bloomberg Sushinomics Index shows
  • New Orleans sushi prices lowest; Houston, Wilmington decline

A spicy tuna roll

Photographer: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

America’s overall inflation may be tepid, but sushi aficionados aren’t feeling it.

The cost of a basic sushi roll has risen 2.3 percent over the past year to $6.99, with some of the steepest increases in sunny Florida, Silicon Valley and the nation’s capital, according to Bloomberg’s Sushinomics Index, which tracks the average cost of California and spicy tuna rolls in 25 major U.S. cities. The gains far outstrip the 0.9 percent year-over-year inflation the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported nationally for food in general, and it’s stronger than the 1.9 percent overall consumer price gain in the 12 months through May.

The tab for a basic roll in Miami rose 10 percent to $8.15, the largest among the 25 cities, followed by an 8.7 percent increase in San Jose, California, to $6.52. New York remains the priciest at $8.72.

The price discrepancies demonstrate that consumer inflation isn’t monolithic: someone in Philadelphia, where the cost of basic rolls had stayed flat in the past five years, is having a different experience than a spicy-tuna lover in San Jose. While sushi is just one item in a broad price index and it’s responsive to conditions in the fish market, it’s also a loose proxy for how far a dollar is going in different cities across the nation.

This year, prices for tuna – a key ingredient in many types of sushi – have been rising amid “booming” worldwide demand for the Japanese delicacy, said Andy Matsuda, master sushi chef at the Sushi Chef Institute in Torrance, California.

Overhead costs such as transportation, rent and labor are other factors behind rising prices, Matsuda said. Nature can interfere too, as it did last year when “salmon had a worm problem,” he said.

There’s also the trendy aspect, as restaurants in affluent locales, such as Silicon Valley and Manhattan, can sell high-end fish airlifted from Japan, Matsuda said. That tends to push up the price of fancier sushi dishes.

Tallied separately among the same eateries, the price of premium rolls – as measured by the two most expensive signature rolls in the house – rose the most in Charlotte, North Carolina, followed by Portland, Oregon, and Seattle over a five-year period. Nationally, the price of a premium roll increased 1.4 percent (annualized for five years) to $15.79, led by gains in Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, and New York.

At the other end of the scale, New Orleans, Louisiana, offers the cheapest basic roll, at $5.40, possibly a reflection of an abundant supply of seafood. Louisiana is the nation’s second largest seafood supplier, according to the Louisiana Seafood Board website.

Houston and Wilmington, Delaware, registered the largest one-year declines, with prices falling 1.3 percent in each, to $6.71 and $5.97 respectively.

They’re the outliers. “Stickiness of price,” an economic term that describes the resistance of prices to move more in line with the broader economy, seems to be at play when it comes to sushi.

“When prices go up they are unlikely to come down,” Matsuda said.

— With assistance by Alexandre Tanzi

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