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Food prices going up, say grocers, restaurateurs

Food prices are rising at area grocery stores and the sticker shock some shoppers are suffering from could soon come to restaurants.

In the past year, prices for food items like oranges, apples, steak and chicken have jumped double digit percentages. Eggs and milk prices have increased by 7 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Everybody’s got to understand that prices are going to go up for everybody,” said Jim Teal, the head pit man at Smokin’ Bar-b-que in Dayton.

Price increases are hitting a lot of the products restaurants use.

“Cheese has gone up considerably, pork products have gone up like crazy, milk, all of our canned goods. You name it, it’s gone up at least 10 to 15 percent in the last month or so,” Teal said.

The Consumer Price Index for food-at-home (grocery store food items) was up 0.4 percent in March and is up 1.4 percent from last March, according to the latest data available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA expects the food, food-at-home and food-away-from-home CPIs to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent over 2013 levels. And this is based on the assumption of normal weather conditions and normal weather has hardly been the norm.

This forecast is based on an assumption of normal weather conditions; however, severe weather events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts. There’s an ongoing drought in California that could effect fruit, vegetable, dairy and egg prices, and the drought in Texas could drive beef prices up even further, according to the USDA.

Tom Winter, vice president of Marketing for Dorothy Lane Market, said prices will hit consumers’ wallets, and even their sweet tooth.

“We are just starting to feel prices going up on breads, cookies, other items. Vendors say peanut butter will go up in July,” Winter said, adding that cookies from regional brands and national brands are up five to six percent in recent months.

Winter said the price hikes are due to extreme weather conditions, including the harsh winter, droughts, and floods in the south. He said the sticker shock is already apparent on meats, but higher prices on other foods aren’t too noticeable to diners and shoppers yet, but they will be soon.

“Manufacturers have been cutting corners to try not to pass it on to retailers, who then have to pass it on to consumers,” Winter said.

This newspaper examined prices for the past decade and found startling increases. From 2004 to 2014, ground chuck prices rose 51 percent and milk increased 32 percent. Oranges and apples have risen more than 27 percent.

But Teal said the time for the restaurants and retailers to roll with the price hikes is coming to an end.

“Up to this point, we have not changed prices, but we are getting ready to. We’re just forced into it, you can’t just continue to absorb the price increases,” Teal said

Teal said he’ll try to raise prices across the board so as not to take one item and skew it out of sight.

“Right now, we are at $10.95 on a sliced brisket meal. It’ll probably go to at least $11.95, so at least a dollar increase, and that won’t even make up for the loss, that’ll just try to kill some of the loss,” said Teal.

Customer Cassius Blackmon was sitting down to enjoy some ribs at Smokin’ Bar-b-que and said the a higher price won’t drive him away. “I still think it’s cheap for the quality, and it’s tasteful, and I always get full beyond what I can hold,” Blackmon said.

Tracie Gatten, the office manager for Old Town Butcher shop in Xenia, said she is shocked by the price hikes from her suppliers.

“Pork chops have gone up from 2.89 to 3.80 within the last two weeks,” she said, adding that fresh sides, which are pork bellies that haven’t been cured and smoked, have jumped from $2.69 a pound to $4.52 in the last month and a half.

“I think it is just the beginning because it’s going to take a while to snap back from cold weather, losing beef, now this disease on piglets. It will take a whole other animal generation; it will take some time to recover,” Gatten said.

As prices rise, Winter said people will turn to other foods to get their fill.

“It’s frustrating,” said shopper Chris Lochary of Dayton. He says he’s noticed prices are up on bananas, milk, cheese and meat. “I’ll be changing my shopping habits to save money,” Lochary said.

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