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The price of throwing that $teak on the grill

PRINCETON — In the midst of prime grilling season, shoppers are seeing historic high prices in the meat and dairy sections at their local grocery stores.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) most recent Marketbasket survey, prices of meat and dairy-related items have climbed anywhere from 6 to 11 percent compared to last year.

Scott Sabin, owner of Wyanet Locker Inc., confirmed meat prices are the highest he has ever seen and gave reasons behind the increase.

The No. 1 reason he mentioned first is the summer season.

“We’re in the middle of steak season, and that’s a big reason prices are so high right now. Roast prices are actually down because that’s a meat most people eat in the winter,” he said.

From Mother’s Day to Memorial Day to Father’s Day and Fourth of July, everyone is getting together and planning cookouts with family and friends. With big holidays just weeks from each other in the summertime, it leaves no time for burger and steak prices to decrease, Sabin said.

Other reasons behind high prices are the current shortage of cattle due to the drought and the high demand of corn-fed beef being shipped to Europe.

“Until they get the herd built back up, prices won’t chance much,” Sabin said. “They’ll go down a little after the steak season but still remain higher than they’ve been in the past.”

The prices, however, don’t seem to be affecting the meat business too much.

“If people are going to the store to buy a steak, they’re going to get that steak,” Sabin said.

The increase in prices, Sabin feels, is actually impacting restaurants more than anything. As a distributor for many local restaurants, Sabin is seeing a larger drop off in their purchasing.

Sabin said when meat prices are high, it’s a trend that more people buy their own meat and cook it at home, rather than going out to eat at a restaurant and paying the higher price on the menu.

A new twist?

While high demand and shortage of cattle are known reasons behind high prices, Professor William Bailey, who is affiliated with Western Illinois University’s School of Agriculture, recently published a column citing a new possible twist to high meat and diary prices.

He explains in his piece that since the 1960s, saturated fats were seen to be an important cause of heart disease. It was advised by health professionals that people stay away from animal fats. Many people associated with heart disease minimized their red meat and dairy product intake. But a new book recently published, “The Big Fat Surprise” disputes this advice, Bailey said.

The author, Nina Teicholz, indicates low fat diets may not be as beneficial as once believed, nor are red meat and dairy products as bad as once believed.

Bailey stated the impact of this new diet hypothesis could be seen at the grocery store.

“There have been reports that retail sales of butter have increased almost 20 percent since the book was first published and featured in an extensive article in the Wall Street Journal,” Bailey said. “I am not sure how consumers will react to those events, but it does seem like a good news-bad news situation. The good news is it may be OK to eat things which, just a month ago, were actively discouraged from eating. The bad news is, since prices are so high, you can’t afford them.”

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Marketbasket survey results

Eighty-nine American Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers in 27 states completed the most recent Marketbasket survey in April. Survey averages are shown below, including the percentage price increase/decrease compared to a year ago:
• bacon, up 12 percent to $4.80 per pound
• white bread, up 10 percent to $1.81 for a 20-ounce loaf
• ground chuck, up 10 percent to $4.10 per pound
• sirloin tip roast, up 9 percent to $5.03 per pound
• eggs, up 8 percent to $1.98 per dozen
• whole milk, up 6 percent to $3.68 per gallon
• chicken breasts, up 6 percent to $3.51 per pound
• flour, up 5 percent to $2.76 for a 5-pound bag
• toasted oat cereal, up less than 1 percent to $2.93 for a 9-ounce box
• Russet potatoes, up less than one-half of 1 percent to $2.70 for a 5-pound bag
• bagged salad, down 4 percent to $2.61 per pound
• deli ham, down 3 percent to $5.21 per pound
• apples, down 3 percent to $1.59 per pound
• vegetable oil, down 2 percent to $2.85 for a 32-ounce bottle
• orange juice, down 1 percent to $3.24 per half-gallon
• Shredded cheddar cheese, no change, $4.47 per pound

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