Meat prices are still rising but you could be paying less for that steak soon

Why are meat prices so high? Grocery shopping has become increasingly expensive but things might start getting cheaper real soon.

ByPamela Parker KGO logo
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Surging food prices starting to lose steam
Why are meat prices so high? Buying steak, chicken and pork has gotten increasingly expensive over the past year but things might start getting cheaper real soon.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The rising cost of groceries, and notably the price of meat has led to many Americans tightening their belts when shopping for food.

Lindsey Fredericks has noticed the cost of meat go up on her trips to the supermarket and has been choosing what she buys more carefully.

"Especially with the pandemic going on, I have not been getting as much money from my employment and I really have to ration what I am buying so I am really turning towards things that are not so expensive."

Kelly Gallagher, head butcher at Mill Valley Market has seen customers change their buying habits at the counter. "What some people have done, especially with prices on some items going up, they'll try to find a less expensive cut and try to work with that or they won't buy quite as much."

"When the skirt steaks went up so dramatically, the people used to come up and buy two (to) three pounds of skirts at a time, I would tell them that it was going to be over $100 and they would go 'oh my gosh' and only get half the amount or change to maybe a flank steak or another cut."

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The price of beef and veal in November 2021 was 20.9% higher than in the same month a year ago.

Pork was up 16.8% and poultry 8.4% higher in the same period last year.

However, there is good news ahead with the latest labor data forecast on consumer prices for food showing price rises slowing down.

Even though the price for beef and veal for December 2021 was still 18.6% higher than it was in December 2020, they are forecast to only rise 3% to 4% in 2022.

"We think food inflation will peak somewhere in the spring or summer as you begin to see some of the issues food companies faced in the early part of 2021 lapse with a lower run rate in the back half of the year," says Peter Galbo, a food and beverage analyst with Bank of America.

Inflation for all food, a metric that looks at eating out as well as the cost of making food at home, grew 6.3% in December 2021 compared to December 2020.

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Steven Maxey, Vice Chairman Elect of California Beef Council says the biggest challenge the beef industry experienced that has contributed to the rising price of beef the last few years has been a severe labor shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that especially affected packing houses from producing at capacity.

Pent-up demand for dining out coupled with more people buying meat for family meals has resulted in pushing prices further up.

"Through this whole time, we've experienced pretty steady demand, even as high as prices have been, consumer demand has been strong. And so I think the combination of the supply due to some of the labor restraints, and strong demand has kind of put us in the position that we're in," Maxey said.

An industry leader for chicken and poultry in California saw similar problems.

"There are a lot of issues involved in the raising of prices for chicken and for other meats," Bill Mattos, President of the California Poultry Federation says.

"It was kind of a perfect storm this past year with the Covid crisis and then we had the gas price issue that skyrocketed and all of our products need to be shipped all over to grocery stores and everywhere. That was over a 50% rise."

"60% of the cost of producing a chicken is in feed, our feed comes out of the Midwest by rail and feed prices have gone up because there has been somewhat of a shortage and also China's buying a lot of the same corn that we need to feed chickens," Mattos says.

The U.S. Labor Department's consumer price index which tracks inflation saw prices for all items climbed 7% in December from the same month in 2020, the fastest pace in nearly four decades.