Get ready for more expensive Memorial Day burgers and hot dogs this year.
Grocery prices have been going up across the board because of disruptions to the supply chain and the spike in people eating at home during the pandemic. Meat, especially, has come under pressure after major processing facilities slowed or shut down because of worker illness. That pressure won't ease up before the holiday — and other prices are staying high, as well.
Prices continue to soar
The average unit price of fresh beef in retail rose 11.9% during the week ending May 9 compared to the same period last year, according to Nielsen. For processed meat, the spike was a tick lower at 11.6%. And for fresh chicken, the increase was 7.5%.
At Stew Leonard's, a grocery chain with locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, consumers should expect to pay more for meat this year.
"Those are definitely going to be higher than they were last year," said CEO and president Stew Leonard Jr. He added that these days, a pound of fresh ground beef goes for about $5.99 a pound compared to $3.99 a pound before the pandemic.
Avi Kaner, co-owner of Morton Williams Supermarkets, said that he's had to pay about $3 to $5 more per pound for each cut of meat because of disruptions to the supply chain.
It's not unusual to see meat prices go up before Memorial Day, he said, because of the spike in demand. But usually the increase is lower, under $1 per pound. In those cases, retailers usually just absorb the cost and leave retail prices the same. But this time, the higher prices are trickling down to Morton Williams customers.
Consumers may expect some relief — but not in time for the holiday.
"Our distributors across the board tell us that prices will be dropping significantly after the Memorial Day holiday," Kaner said.
The prices of other items that might make your holiday complete have also increased. Consumers paid 5.7% more for hot dogs, 4.5% more for carbonated drinks and 3.8% more for snacks in April, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We don't have hot dogs on sale this year like we did last year," said Leonard.
How to lower costs
Those hoping to catch a break by switching to meat substitutes aren't likely to find one.
Impossible Foods, which sells a ground beef substitute at retail for $8.99 or $9.99 per 12-ounce packages, isn't offering any discounts ahead of the holiday. Beyond Meat, which has its own beef substitute, is offering discounts — but not enough to make Beyond beef as cheap as most supermarket animal beef, even with higher beef prices.
"This Memorial Day weekend, consumers can find specials like up to $1 off Beyond Burger packs," a spokesperson said, noting that value packs "will be priced very competitively." Even with increases in meat prices, the alternative is still about 20% more expensive than animal meat, she noted.
Customers could get more bang for their buck this year by avoiding traditional grilling items.
Although they are more expensive than burgers and hot dogs, people can find deals on specialty items like lobster tails and filet mignon, which would normally be sold to restaurants before they closed their doors during the pandemic, Leonard said.
“Eat a little more lobster and fish and salmon and a little less hamburger and your pocketbook will not change for the holiday,” he added.