Grocery Prices See Highest Rise In 46 Years, Expert Calls It ‘Pandemic Of The Food World’

A picture of an empty shelf in a grocery store.
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Grocery prices had the single-highest one-month rise in the last 46 years in April, with disruptions to supply chains and other pressures from the coronavirus crisis contributing to the sharp increases seen across the country.

As CBS Los Angeles reported, figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that grocery prices were up 2.6 percent in the month of April, the largest one-month increase since 1974. The report cited consumer behavioral analyst Phil Lempert, who said that the increases were caused largely by disruptions at meat plants and other pressures from the trucking industry, including a high number of retiring drivers.

The high demand for household staples for Americans stuck in their homes during coronavirus lockdowns was another factor.

“It’s a pandemic of the food world,” Lempert said.

Many consumer experts have been warning for weeks that there would be disruptions in the meat processing and delivery sectors, as many processing plants have been hard hit by coronavirus outbreaks that have sometimes infected hundreds of employees. Meat prices have already started to rise across the country, with some stores and fast food chains running out of beef.

Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer for food processing company Smithfield Foods, warned that there would be some major impact across the sector from the outbreak. In a release noting the temporary closure of a company meat plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, due to an outbreak, Sullivan warned that this and other closures would see trickle-down effects for shoppers.

“These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals,” Sullivan added.

“The virus is afflicting communities everywhere. The agriculture and food sectors have not been immune.”

The CBS Los Angeles report noted that the grocery price increases have been particularly difficult for many shoppers who are making larger purchases for households unable to visit restaurants or other options that had been available before coronavirus lockdowns went in place. Many have also begun using grocery delivery services that include delivery fees and tips, and do not allow them to use coupons.

There could be some relief ahead. Lempert told CBS Los Angeles that he believes grocery prices will go back down around January, when stores are able to catch up on some of the chronically understocked items and allow stores to be fully stocked again.