Drought begins to impact Bay Area food prices

If you've been grocery shopping lately, you've no doubt noticed that your food bill is getting more expensive.
March 18, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you've been grocery shopping lately, you've no doubt noticed that your food bill is getting more expensive. To show you why, all you have to do is look outside. It is a beautiful day and another day without rain. The drought is driving up the cost of milk, meat, and vegetables.

If you glance through the menu at Radius in San Francisco's South of Market area, you'll see prices have stayed the same for several months. That's because the owner and the chef have been closely watching the prices of food coming into their kitchen. Unfortunately, because of the drought, their job is going to get much tougher since prices will climb.

The most noticeable food item in the radius kitchen affected by the ongoing drought is beef.

"Beef prices, they historically drop after the holidays, and they've sustained," said Jon Whitehead, the owner of Radius.

What would normally be a $9 per pound piece of beef is a little more than $10 a pound because hay and grass fields are bare.

"Basically, our suppliers are going to have to start feeding grain and corn-fed to be able to give us cattle and that's going to drive up the prices," said Whitehead.

And that's not the only drought-affected food. At the SOMA supermarket around the corner the operator there says they hiked up the price of milk last week. It had been about 80-cents-a-gallon cheaper. And then there's the produce. Higher prices about this time of year are normal because of the transition from winter to spring. The concern is about prices later in the year.

"As the new crops come in the prices are high, but this year we expect them to go higher because some of the crops have been eliminated, mainly because they just won't have enough water," said Peter Carcione, a produce wholesaler from the Carcione Fresh Produce Company in South San Francisco.

Carcione's colleague at Green Leaf Foods in the Bayview District of San Francisco says prices may spike, but not for everything.

"There might be products that are really affected, and other ones that are not. So I think you have to wait and see, and then I think people will also adjust what they eat a bit, to what products are available," said Frank Ballentine, the president of Green Leaf Produce.

The biggest problem for produce prices later this year are farmers are planting fewer acres because of the drought, so there's just not going to be a lot of product on the market.

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