THE BRONX - Higher gas prices and greater food demand have sent prices skyrocketing at local grocery stores, leaving customers stunned.

Experts attribute the price increase of virtually everything on store shelves to the diversion of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive. They also say rising wheat costs are to blame.

"The cost of wheat has gone up by 300 percent in the last six months," says Foodtown Manager Harry Celentano. He believes wheat prices will drop in June or July when the new crops are harvested, and prices will subsequently lower.

Food prices rose 1.5 percent since December and a total of 4.6 percent since the same time last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Stocking up on groceries has become especially hard for people relying on Social Security checks and fixed incomes.

Soundview Health Center nutritionist Renata Shiloah suggests shoppers use coupons, buy sale items and comparison shop for deals. She also believes people should purchase frozen or canned items, which last longer.