Meat prices on the rise with no relief expected by summer

Meat prices on the rise with no relief expected by summer

Taylor Archambault, of Lincoln, prepares a sandwich at the Beef Barn on Monday, April 14. (Valley Breeze photo by David Wuerth)
Sellers reluctant to pass on the costs, hopeful for grilling season

The cost of meat is hitting record highs, with little or no relief expected by the summer grilling season.

Experts say there are a variety of factors for the unusually high prices, from bad weather and animal diseases to high consumer demand and smaller cattle herds.

Local meat sellers and restaurant owners say they're dealing with higher costs in a variety of ways, trying to avoid passing them on to consumers while hoping that they'll come back down.

While some are expecting prices to go up even more as the main grilling season approaches, similar predictions in the past have failed to come true, said Rob Bozek, of Michael's Meats in Cumberland. According to Bozek, pork and beef are taking the biggest hits right now.

"It's not a good time for the meat industry," he said.

Bozek said he, like others, is trying to hold off on passing the added costs to consumers, but it's becoming increasingly difficult given the spike in price for some meats. Pork products, for instance, are seeing an increase near 30 percent.

Bozek said there are many factors involved with price increases for meat.

"It's never one thing," he said.

His costs for some meats will suddenly shoot from about $2.50 a pound to $3.50 a pound, said Bozek, making it difficult to keep costs down.

"It's dramatic but it's hard to throw it at the customer," he said.

Jayson Nieves, of Armando & Sons Meat Market in Pawtucket, said prices have gone up substantially for certain meats like sirloin and ribs, but so far he and his family have had no choice but to absorb the costs instead of raising prices.

"If not, we're going to lose customers," said Nieves.

Nieves said he expects the popular meats for grilling and barbecuing will continue going up as summer approaches, but he is optimistic that people will keep buying. Armando & Sons was packed with buyers on Monday, showing that there is still a strong market for meat, he said.

Marc Branchaud, owner of the Beef Barn in North Smithfield, said he's seen beef prices go up by about 60 to 80 cents a pound in the past month. Prices haven't gone up for consumers yet, he said, as he continues to hold out hope that costs will stabilize and even go down.

Branchaud said that today's meat costs for restaurants like his typically go back to events that happened "six or eight months ago," whether there was an issue with feed for livestock or a series of bad weather events.

Local meat retailers say they aren't generally seeing a drop in sales as prices rise, but the coming months could tell a different story.

A survey of 1,900 people last year, detailed by Bloomberg in a March 25 report on meat prices, showed that 39 percent of those surveyed were reporting eating less red meat, citing cost as one of the reasons.

Will high prices for meat impact your food-buying and grilling decisions this summer? Tell us at www.valleybreeze.com . Also, follow @GrillingRI on Twitter for information related to grilling and meat in Rhode Island.

According to the Bloomberg report, beef costs jumped 30 percent in six months and pork went up 20 percent just in March. National experts were predicting that meat prices would keep rising faster than the prices for other food groups even before summer grilling season.

Some factors listed in that report included the smallest domestic cattle herd since 1951, "after years of drought and high feed costs, and the spread of a piglet-killing disease," among others.

A March 18 report in MarketWatch stated that prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs in January and February climbed 1.2 percent and 4 percent over the previous 12 months. Prices are expected to continue to climb through 2016, according to the report. Part of the reason for that is that cattle herds take longer to replenish than poultry.

Bozek said he doesn't expect that consumers will panic about rising meat prices. There have been many times in the past where forecasters were calling for skyrocketing prices by summer, only to see those predictions fall apart entirely. Even if prices do go higher, said Bozek, he expects many people are far too attached to their meat to cut back in that area.

There's plenty of "speculation" going into each summer about where meat prices will go, said Bozek, and it often turns out that it's "not as bad" as what they say. That being said, some of the prices he's charging now are similar to prices he typically charges after Memorial Day, said Bozek.

While the pricing cycles for poultry often come full circle in a month or two, said Bozek, beef prices typically take about 18 months to come back down, making it harder to "play catch-up."

The meat market is notoriously unpredictable, said Bozek, as prices for certain cuts seem to inexplicably "catch on fire." Chicken wings are reasonable right now, he said, but he's seen them double in price in the past.

Customers may also notice a big increase in cold-cut deli meats like roast beef, said Bozek. The price of cold cuts is going up in part because costs for processed raw materials have increased so much, he said.