As more Americans get vaccinated each day many of us are looking forward to backyard barbecues to celebrate the start of summer. But the food on your picnic table for Memorial Day and Fourth of July could look a lot different due to meat shortages that are a direct result of COVID-related issues. Pork prices are already on the rise and analysts predict there will be a surge in demand that farmers simply won't be able to meet for a variety of reasons.
"Pork prices have risen significantly over the past several months, and it’s looking like it will be a more expensive barbecue season this spring and summer," Jayson L. Lusk, a distinguished professor and head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Perdue University told TODAY Food. "Wholesale pork prices at present are approaching the unusually high levels we observed in May 2020, when there was a short-term spike due to the widespread shutdown in pork processing resulting from workers contracting COVID-19."
Lusk said there are a number of factors that could make it harder to find favorites like bacon, hot dogs and sausage on the shelves this spring and summer.
"Export demand has remained strong, and countries such as China continue to import U.S. pork, which is contributing to high prices," he said. "The number of hogs in the US has contracted over the course of the past year, in part due to COVID, and the lower supply is pushing up prices. Finally, feed prices have risen significantly. It is costing more to feed hogs, and this is being reflected in pork prices."
Consumers are already seeing rising costs at the grocery store. Before the pandemic began, the national average for a pound of bacon in January 2020 was $4.72. By last month, that price had soared to $5.11, according to exclusive supermarket point of sale data from Nielsen IQ. The hikes are greater in certain areas of the country. Boston and Philadelphia are paying nearly a dollar more per pound of bacon, while Chicago is up about 70 cents.
Another factor that may affect prices is that even as more people get vaccinated, many of us are still opting to host social gatherings outdoors as a safer alternative to curb the spread of COVID-19. Outdoor gatherings mean more barbecues and so the demand for meat in general will certainly increase as we fire up those grills and get back outside.
There are also simply fewer hogs right now, said Isaac Olvera, a food and agriculture economist at ArrowStream in an article for Business Insider.
"The number of market hogs, piglets, and future piglets, dropped 1.8%, 1.4% and 2.5%, respectively, from March 1 2020 to March 1, 2021, he said.
So if you can, consider stocking up on ribs and sausages to add to your freezer stash for sunnier days. Another alternative is to be flexible with your menu. Instead of those pork ribs, try out a grilled chicken recipe, throw some fresh corn on the grill or even switch things up and celebrate with some fancy veggie burgers. Because after not seeing friends and family for so long, what really matters is the company, not the cut of meat on your plate.