How the Coronavirus Pandemic has Impacted Grocery Prices
Those stocking up for Fourth of July barbecues with their families, or simply out for their weekly grocery store trips may have noticed something in the past three to four months -- that is, since lockdowns began in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, in March. Since its initial spread and the stay-at-home orders, mass testing, and economic shut downs, as well as gradual reopenings throughout the United States, many have noticed that it’s not just toilet paper prices, and N95 masks, that are skyrocketing. In fact, consumers have noticed price increases of nearly 4.1% all around on many groceries in the past 12 months, and it’s not entirely clear when we can expect market prices to return to the normal, stable prices we had before the pandemic.
The sudden rise in grocery prices is due to several factors, two among them being food supply disruption due to the global health crisis we currently face with the coronavirus pandemic, and that more families are eating at home due to previous stay-at-home orders. In fact, during the first week in May alone, the average price of fresh beef was up 11.9% compared to the same dates in 2019. Before the pandemic, ground beef prices hovered around $3.99 per pound, but have faced a full two-dollar increase since coronavirus hit the markets, with average hamburger prices sitting at about $5.99 per pound. For fresh chicken, there was a 7.5% increase in average price. However, while supermarket item prices have soared, other butcher case commodities, such as fine cuts like filet mignon or expensive luxury meals like lobster tails and crab legs, are actually seeing a break in prices, as the demand for them has fallen since the closure of most restaurants since COVID-19 social restrictions came into play.
As most states move into reopening, though, economists and analysts warn not to get too excited for grocery prices to return to normal. Despite the reopening of many restaurants, many, still, are operating at limited capacity -- that is, if they’re even offering dine-in at all. THerefore, even as restaurants reopen, people should expect to still be doing a significant portion of eating at home, meaning home-cooked meals shall prevail. And so will the high grocery prices.
Part of this, NPR reports, is not only that more people are eating at home for meals, but also turning to food to curb other kinds of cravings -- the kind that used to be filled with work, social interactions, and other bits of normalcy we’re still largely waiting to return to. In disbelief? Just ask your friends how many of them have started cultivating a sourdough starter or baking. While supermarkets began profiting off the fact that they were one of few businesses deemed essential, and therefore some of the only businesses that remained open during the pandemic, now they are continuing to turn a profit off boredom. Back in early March, the first items that flew off the shelves were toilet paper, PPE, and nonperishables, such as rice and canned goods. But later, it was baking flour, eggs, sugar and spices. The baking surge drove prices for necessities like eggs up 16% in April. Stress eating has also influenced Americans to fill their carts even fuller, as well as trips to the store becoming fewer and further between.
Boredom isn’t the only factor, though. In fact, the prices of baking goods began to level out more and more in May. But many households are turning toward center aisles of the grocery store for
easy meals, since we’re still eating the majority of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners at home. This means that cereals, soups, mac n’ cheese, and lunch meats are among higher prices at markets. Furthermore, many households are now feeding more mouths than before, since the closure of universities and other higher learning institutions have landed college-aged kids at home. Since many internship and summer jobs are cancelled, too, and the return to school in the fall is looking more and more unlikely for some institutions, these extra mouths are likely to continue their stay at home, pun intended. Furthermore, with moratoriums on evictions being lifted and rent assistance coming to an end after its 3 month promise, the U.S. is facing the possibility of more evictions than ever, possibly turning a public health crisis into a full-blown homelessness crisis. More and more people may be moving in with relatives, meaning that with each household having more mouths to feed, the prices of grocery store staples will continue to go up.
With family shoppers coming into contact with more and more people due to increasingly cramped households, it’s even more important to use PPE at and after trips to the grocery store, because the only thing worse than an increased grocery bill may be a medical one for coronavirus treatment. Wearing masks and ventilators in the store, wiping down packaged groceries with antibacterial wipes and washing produce, and using hand sanitizer after exiting the store is of increasingly vital importance if we’re to whether the pandemic and economic storm together.