For many Americans, food shopping has been a stressful part of the pandemic. In addition to strict safety precautions in grocery stores, food prices have risen to meet the surge in demand — especially for meat.
But that is finally changing. On Wednesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the first decrease in price since April of last year. For home food shopping, prices fell 1.1%, compared to a rise of 0.7% in June.
On Saturday, NBC's Stephanie Ruhle reported for Weekend TODAY that, with families eating meals at home and not going to restaurants, "shelves were being cleared at grocery stores" during the start of the pandemic. Ruhle said it was a classic case of supply and demand that caused prices to rise.
While there has not been a food shortage, massive disruptions in the supply chain have resulted in fewer items than usual reaching grocery stores. After surging in May and June, meat prices finally dropped in July. The price for beef and veal fell 8.25% from June to July, while beef roasts and steaks fell 8.7% in cost. Pork prices lowered 3.2% while chicken prices dropped by 2.6%, making it easier for families to get dinner on the table.
Other groceries got cheaper in July, too: Egg prices fell 4%, cheese decreased by 1.6%, potatoes were 3.1% lower and peanut butter went down by 2.4%
In the meat category, hot dogs were the one exception: The price of frankfurters rose 2.4% from June to July. The higher price could be due in part to the Fourth of July holiday. A few other categories got pricier, too: including lettuce, by 1.6%, and soup, by 1.2%.
The mostly positive trajectory comes as meat plants begin to get back to a somewhat normal operating schedule. Earlier in the pandemic, many meat processors closed their plants or scaled back their schedules due to employees testing positive for — and some dying from — COVID-19. Workers in meatpacking plants were found to be very susceptible to the virus as many stand shoulder to shoulder while they work on the production line.
On July 30, Tyson Foods announced they would administer several thousand COVID-19 tests each week in all 140 of its U.S. production facilities. But some Tyson plants "continue to operate at decreased production levels," said CEO Noel White during a recent call with analysts discussing the company's financial results.
The price of groceries has risen across the board during the pandemic, due in part to the fact that Americans began to stockpile food. Because of a labor shortage at the farm level, the supply chain took a hit, even though there was never a shortage of food. All of these factors caused prices to rise, with April of this year seeing the biggest one-month increase since 1974, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ruhle said that, as manufacturer prices begin to drop, the retail prices will follow suit. In the meantime, she suggested shopping at discount stores such as Aldi, focusing on meals with pantry staples rather than fresh items like meat and, whenever possible, buying in bulk.