Co-authored with David Branch & Kevin Bergquist, Wells Fargo Food and Agribusiness Industry Advisors
Wells Fargo’s July Fourth Food Inflation Report
Fourth of July celebrants will be able to keep an eye on the fireworks and minimize the pain of food inflation by planning early this year – but it will require a little creativity with menu planning and an eye for deals given food prices are up across the board. Hosting a party of ten could cost about 11%1 more than last year. We’ve assembled some tips to help rein in costs.
Tips for keeping costs low
- Shrimp and pork taco time. No need to bypass the grill, but you may want to consider a new twist to your menu – tacos! Shrimp and pork are relatively good buys, along with tomatoes, and all serve well in tacos. Average prices for pork are up 3.1% from last year2 versus 12-15% for other proteins,3 making it a relative bargain. Shrimp is in the same boat. Current prices are still below the 5-year average of $4.21.3 Tomatoes will make great taco-toppers, up only about 1% this year.3 BBQ pork ribs are a traditional favorite and great alternative – or addition – to tacos.
- Don’t scream for ice cream. While dairy has not experienced the same price increases for consumers as other categories, ice cream prices have bounced up 6% since this time last year3. Nondairy desserts, such as sherbet, gelato, and popsicles, have declined in price by 4.5%.3 As a fun alternative, consider homemade ice cream. Both the process and the raw ingredients remain affordable – and if you opt to churn by hand, it’s good way to occupy the kiddos.
- Beverage “bargains.” This summer may be the time for simpler choices when looking for affordable alcohol: domestic super premium beers, lower price-point wine brands, and homemade and crafted non-alcoholic family beverages are great choices from a value standpoint. It looks like shoppers are already making some shifts, as the domestic super premium beer category has the least demand erosion with a nearly flat 0.7% decrease.3 Celebrants may also consider another homemade treat, fresh-squeezed lemonade. Although lemon prices are up 9%,4 lemons go a long way with a little sugar for this summer favorite.
- Look out for specials. Retailers are utilizing data analytics to keep products moving off the shelves. A slowdown in demand, despite higher prices overall, may create “specials” that offer bargains for consumers. Plan ahead to seek longer shelf-life items (frozen patties, for example) that can relieve some of the sticker shock. Reserve last-minute shopping trips for perishable fruits and vegetables.
Now, let’s work our way through the shopping list:
- Salty snack attacks: Pretzels are the real salty snack winners, as manufacturers have been able to keep price increases to 5% year over year.3 Overall, salty snack demand has grown nearly 30% since 2018.3 Cost inflation has hit both branded (national) and private (store) label snacks. This began to show up in price increases in all categories during pandemic times. Counterintuitively, the growth of private-labels sales nearly doubled at 10.5% year-over-year versus national brands at 4.6% year-over-year for 2021.3 Buyers have at least temporarily switched to national brands, with Nielsen retail data showing average quarterly volume gains over the last seven quarters, while private labels posted volume declines. Look for unique ingredients, flavors, cooking techniques, and packaging to keep snackers satisfied. New product introductions are often coupled with brand promotions.
- Avocados expensive but selling: The U.S. appetite for fresh avocados and avocado-based foods does not appear to be slowing. Overall retail sales have nearly doubled from 2018 to 2021, and the price increases in 2022 have contributed to a 24% year-to-date increase in sales volume by dollar;3 however, overall unit volume increases continue. With improvements in trade-related challenges, and with the bulk of California avocado season occurring from mid-April to mid-July, expect better supplies to improve retail avocado prices for the consumer. Look to the frozen foods case to see innovative new avocado offerings including frozen guacamole and avocado dips, and cubed fresh frozen avocados for salads and smoothies.
Tomatoes for the win
- Fruits and veggies: Fresh tomato prices are up approximately 1% this year,3 which is a bargain compared to the average of 7% increases overall3 in the retail produce department. That said, summer is usually the time to show off the bold colors of berry medley salads, and keep the carrot, celery, tomatoes, and fresh lettuce handy for dips and burger fixings. Berries are available year-round now from multinational growing areas. Strong seasonal production often creates supplies that moderate prices and lead summer “specials” in the produce departments. Summer prices can also be seasonally low, as items compete against the crops from consumers’ backyard gardens.
Chillin’ and grillin’
- Protein pain points: Proteins are still leading pain points for the bargain-minded shopper. Higher feed costs for animals due to corn and soybean prices spiking close to 100% over the last couple of years remain problematic for producers.5 Herd size (think beef cattle) cannot increase on a dime, and therefore, with a constrained supply and without a decrease in feed cost, consumers are likely to see elevated protein prices for some time. In addition to higher feed costs, the poultry industry is also managing through disease pressure, so it is unlikely that drumsticks and chicken wing prices will subside during the summer season. An exception may be where retailers are willing to employ “loss leader” tactics to attract consumers to a bargain, betting that additional purchases while onsite will make up for the loss. There has been so much attention on protein price increases, that an attractive price for chicken breasts or rotisserie chickens, even at a loss for the retailer, certainly could attract attention.6
- Pork remains a value: Whereas it may be difficult to envision a barbeque without patties and franks, there’s a solid chance that pork chops and pork ribs are going to be getting some of that delicious real estate this summer. Pork is the only protein showing an increase in retail demand so far this year, and it is likely because average prices are making pork a relative value at the meat counter as average retail prices for pork chops are only up 3.1% from July 2021,2 versus 12-15% year-over-year price gains for competitive protein categories.3
- What’s the beef? Beef is always a hit for barbeque lovers. Price increases across the categories have been hovering around 9% year-over-year for 2021, yet beef ribs have been a relative stand out at a 2% increase.3 The good news is that 2022 year-to-date pricing has moderated sharply, especially for ribs and value-added marinated and pre-seasoned products. Although prices for fresh ground beef are up by 11.8%,7 demand for pre-formed beef patties has fallen off a little this year versus previous years,3 so look in the frozen section for advantageous pricing.
- Chicken little: Whether it’s drumsticks, breasts, or wings, chicken prices have soared this year. Retail prices for wings and chicken breasts are up 38% and 24%.3 Interestingly, while drumstick prices are up 12%,3 volume movement by equivalent units has increased nearly 17.5% over the same time period.3
- A “frank” outlook: Frankfurters’ price points are usually a hit because of relative value to other grilling options, particularly for big family affairs. Sales by unit volume are sliding year-to-date (off nearly 3% at retail3), potentially as a response to price increases. Prices over the same period have increased over 12%, and poultry-based franks even more so, reflecting a 15.3% in year-to-date price increase.3 So, unfortunately the price points of yesteryear may be history; however, relative value to ground beef and whole meat cuts remain. Believe it or not, beef franks have been competitively priced with only a 6.3% increase.3 Since the U.S. poultry industry is adjusting to challenges from a bird-flu outbreak, poultry-based frank supplies may not increase quickly enough to improve pricing for the Fourth of July grill, but perhaps by later in the summer. Because frankfurters have a longer shelf life, look for ads and buy early.
- Shrimp on the barbie: Scrumptious seafood always impresses and finishes well for summer events. While wholesale prices remain sharply up from 2020’s average of $3.76 per pound (at the wholesale import level7) and now hover at $4.15 per pound (same index7), a 16% increase in price is all relative. 2021 pricing was still in “recovery” mode from the multi-year low due to COVID reducing restaurant demand. Shrimp is a relative bargain compared to other proteins, specific to price increases. Current prices are still below the 5-year average of $4.21.3 Now, unless you are buying by the metric ton, you will pay much more per pound at retail, but current average retail prices for raw shrimp are only up 8.2%2 from July 2021, which is a relative bargain.
- All the fixins: Traditional mayonnaise prices have increased due to processing and raw ingredient (egg) cost inflation. Consumers are also seeing increases for ketchup and mustard. While volume declines are minimal, consumers are likely to seek satisfactory substitutes (like store brands), and if particularly loyal to national brands, larger sizes, or box store volume purchases can result in incremental volume discounts.
- Know your roll: Don’t look for relief from food inflation with hamburger and hot dog buns. This year’s prices are up over 10%, versus the steady 2% from the last two years.3 This is likely a ripple effect from war in Ukraine, and commodity price surge creating competition for grain production. Perishable products like breads are difficult to buy ahead.
- Screamin’ about ice cream: Traditional dairy-based ice cream remains the goliath of the freezer, but nondairy ice cream unit volume is still increasing, beating other subcategories in the space measured by growth year-over-year. It may be a bright spot amongst food price increases, as nondairy ice cream has declined in price by 4.5%,3 whereas other subcategories continue to see year-over-year price increases.
In the cooler
- Soft drink prices pop: Soda has made up about 30%3 of the total non-alcoholic market for some time, but other categories, energy and sports drinks, water, and value-added water are gaining category share. While 2021 price increases tracked at approximately 8%, keeping the cooler full of national brand soda will cost 13% more than last year.3 The competing beverage favorites are also higher than last year, with energy drinks up approximately 3% and water posting over 9% higher prices than last year.3
- When life gives you lemons: It may be time to pull out the family homemade lemonade recipe and introduce the kids to something “novel.” While lemon prices look to be up by 9%,4 lemons go a long way with a little sugar for this summer favorite.
- Beer me: Beer prices are up nearly 25% year-to-date.3 With retail volume also falling off across categories, it looks like demand may be reacting to this. The Domestic Super Premium category has the least demand erosion reflecting a nearly flat .7% decrease; this certainly looks like it is linked to this category having the lowest price increase at “only” 15%.3
- Wine, don’t whine: Wine prices are not increasing at the same level as other beverages. Relative to other alcohol categories, a 5.8% increase so far this year in average wine prices3 seems modest. The spectrum of varieties, brands, and innovation packaging underscores the opportunity to pair affordable wine with summer meals, and to have some fun discovering new products.
1Wells Fargo Food & Agribusiness Industry Advisors with data compiled through Urner Barry, USDA, Nielsen and Bureau of Labor Statistics using a menu of cheeseburgers, chicken wings, chicken breasts, pork chops, shrimp on the barbie, sweet corn, potato salad, salty snacks, salsa, avocados, ice cream and strawberries
2Urner Barry – Comtell Weekly Retail Index as of May 2022
3Nielsen Expanded “All Outlets Combined” including convenience stores as of May 2022
4Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA
5Chicago Mercantile Exchange
6NPR, 06/07/2022. Inflation is raising prices on almost everything, except rotisserie chicken
7Urner Barry – Comtell