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Meat prices are soaring as inflation bites U.S. consumers

Inflation and supply chain problems fuel economic fears
Inflation and supply chain problems fuel economic fears 03:16

Meatless Mondays could soon be followed by Tofu Tuesdays, at least among more frugal shoppers. Americans with an eye on the rising cost of groceries may want to curtail their purchases of animal protein, which have collectively notched double-digit price hikes over the past year.   

Since October of 2020, the price of meat, poultry and fish have all risen almost 12%, according to the government's Consumer Price Index. The price of beef has climbed even further, soaring more than 20% over the last year, while chicken has increased 7.5% and pork 14%, labor data show

Since early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, beef, pork and chicken prices are up roughly 26%, 19% and 15%, respectively, according to EconoFact, a nonpartisan publication that covers economic affairs.

"The meat price increases were initially caused by disruptions in supply when packing plants shuttered after workers contracted COVID-19," Jayson Lusak, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, wrote in a post on EconoFact. "Packing has fully resumed, but there remain extra costs from socially distanced workers and the addition of personal protective equipment."

Tyson Foods, which accounts for roughly 20% of U.S. meat production, is raising prices as it pays more for grain, labor, transportation, warehousing, packaging and ingredients, CEO Donnie King said in an earnings call on Monday. "It might be easier for me to tell you what component hasn't seen inflation this past year," he said.

The company is protecting its bottom line and passing along higher costs to consumers, hiking prices 13% for the fiscal year and 24% in the fourth quarter, he said.

Tyson's revenue rose 20% in the fourth quarter — mostly due to its price increases — while sales fell 4%, largely because of plants not being fully staffed, Stewart Glendinning, the company's chief financial officer, told Wall Street analysts.

Americans buying Tyson beef saw prices jump an average of nearly 33% during the quarter. During that same period, prices for the company's pork and chicken surged 38% and 19%, respectively. That helped boost Tyson's revenue 12% to $12.8 billion during the three-month period, and its earnings more than doubled to nearly $1.4 billion from the year-ago quarter. 

Consumers to pay higher prices during holiday season and beyond 06:50

Inflation isn't just showing up in the grocery aisle — Americans are also paying more for gasoline, heating oil, clothes, rent and many other items, with demand picking up even as labor shortages and other disruptions put a lid on supply. 

The situation is proving stressful this Thanksgiving for many Americans, who may not be able to afford the food for the meal-centric holiday or find everything on their grocery lists.  

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