The price of your average grocery run is nearly 8% higher this year when compared to last, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the prices of everything in your cart aren’t all trending the same: while apples have gotten 5% more expensive, the cost of breakfast cereal is up nearly 25%.
In the meat department, prices aren’t being affected equally either. Chicken and turkey have risen by 17% since last October. Meanwhile, the cost of beef and veal is actually down 3.6%.
What’s behind the divergence in meat prices?
“The increase in chicken prices is mostly due to very strong consumer demand this year along with increased production (mostly feed) costs,” explained Derrell Peel, who teaches agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University and specializes in livestock.
Peel said bird flu isn’t really responsible for driving up the cost of “broilers,” which are chickens raised for meat production, but it has had impacts elsewhere in the grocery store. Avian influenza has wreaked havoc on chickens used for egg production – egg prices are up a whopping 43% year over year – and hit turkeys pretty hard, too. The strain of the flu wiped out 49 million turkeys and other poultry so far this year, the Associated Press reported, leaving turkey prices at a record high.
Rodney Holcomb, also an agricultural economics professor at Oklahoma State University, noted that the cost of chicken feed has also risen, and those costs are passed on to consumers. Not to mention the cost of fuel – consumers are already paying more to fill up their own cars, but they’re also paying for that added cost all the way down the supply chain. “That’s part of increased costs for everything,” Holcomb said.
Beef demand has remained strong, Peel said, so there are other forces at play allowing prices to drop a bit. As the U.S. exports less beef this year, there could be some “jockeying” in the beef markets, with lowered prices to stir up more domestic demand. Earlier this year, Tyson Foods said it would drop some of its meat prices in response to drooping demand for premium cuts.
Since last year, uncooked steaks and roasts have seen the largest drop in prices, and the price of ground beef has stayed about the same. However, “the most expensive middle meats, ribeye and tenderloin have increased this fall,” Peel noted.
One type of meat has seen a massive price spike this year. Lunchmeats cost 19% more than they did a year ago, according to government statistics. Elsewhere in the grocery store, cookies, crackers, white bread, lettuce, frozen vegetables and salad dressing have all seen their prices rise between 15% and 20%.