As Inflation Rocks Food Prices, Shoppers Say “Ouch”

Susan Pollack, a property manager who was shopping one afternoon last week at a Costco in Marina del Rey, California, said the price of a bulk pack of toilet paper had gone up from $ 17 to $ 25.

At his local kosher butcher, prices were climbing even higher: more than $ 200 for a 5-pack of prime rib.

“I told my husband, ‘We will never have short ribs again,’” she said.

Global forces such as supply chain disruptions, adverse weather conditions, energy costs, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have contributed to the rise in inflation rates that have scared stock market investors and put President Biden’s administration on the defensive.

But the pressure is felt more directly by shoppers making their weekly runs to grocery stores, where some previously plentiful items have been missing for months and where prices for food, meat and eggs remain stubbornly high.

At a stop and shop in Elizabeth, NJ, Hagar Dale, a 35-year-old Instacart shopper, pointed out that a single packet of powdered drink mix that was once sold for 25 cents jumped to 36 cents at the start. of May. , it was sold for 56 cents, he said.

“Sir, forbid if you have a big shop to do,” Ms. Dale said as she left the grocery store with a customer’s order. “You’re pinching a penny.”

Such price increases have led to adhesive shock, resignation, and a determination to sniff out bargains.

“You’re looking for more business,” said Ray Duffy, a 66-year-old retired banker in a “Not Sorry American” T-shirt who was recently walking out of a Lidl grocery store in Garwood, NJ.

“Go shopping,” he said. “It’s something you do.”

There are many supermarkets in South Riding, Virginia where Susana Yoo lives.

But drive nine miles to Centerville to shop at H Mart, a Korean grocery store, where fresh vegetables, like large bunches of green onions, cost slightly less. From there, he’ll go to Trader Joe’s, which has “pretty good prices for meat”.

Then, switch to Costco for non-perishable bulk items that can be stored.

To save some money, “I have to go to three different places,” Ms. Yoo said.

Alyssa Sutton, owner of a 53-year-old home theater company, left King’s Food Market in Short Hills, NJ, a grocery chain where a 13-ounce jar of Bonne Maman canned food was selling for $ 6.49.

“This inflation thing is a real problem,” he said. “When you pay double to fill the gas tank and double for everything, you have to say to yourself, ‘Well, do I really need to buy everything at King’s?’”

Ms. Sutton said she takes staples from King’s, then heads to cheaper markets like Trader Joe’s, where she says fruits and veggies are cheaper.

“It takes time,” he said. “It takes planning.”

Lisa Tucker, 54, of Gainesville, Virginia, drives a few more miles to Giant because food prices are lower than those closest to her home. She buys in bulk when prices are favorable – she recently bought eight boxes of cereal because they sold for $ 1.77 each – and she signed up for multiple loyalty rewards programs.

“It’s strategic,” he said.

Ms. Tucker is also looking for nearly expired and therefore heavily discounted meat.

On Tuesday, Mrs Tucker stole a short-term pound. beef package for $ 3.74, reduced from $ 7.49. In order to get a notice from the meat department staff about such arrangements, she said that she will sometimes bring them homemade banana bread.

Ms. Tucker tells them: If a discount sticker is going to be slapped on some Boar’s Head bacon, “let me know.”

Angie Goodman, a housekeeper from Culver City, California, usually eats meat once a week. but now that the steaks have doubled the pricehe said he might have to cut back to once a month.

Ms. Goodman, 54, said she earns about $ 15 an hour, a figure that has stagnated as the cost of living skyrocketed.

“Basic stuff is very expensive,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

Isabel Chambergo, 62, a warehouse worker in Elizabeth, New Jersey, said meals she once planned at home are now mapped as she grocery shopping, so she can use her phone to scan items for digital coupons. That saves $ 10 to $ 15 per shopping trip, she said.

“That’s how I get on,” said Ms. Chambergo as she left a Stop and Shop in Elizabeth with her husband, Arturo, 62.

“It helps a little,” he said. “It’s not a lot, but I’m looking to buy healthy things that fill us up too.”

That is, if he can also find the ingredients he needs.

Ms. Chambergo said she used to buy a quinoa and rice mix from Stop and Shop with which she made hearty soups. But she hasn’t been on the shelves for at least two months.

Mr. Duffy, the retired banker, said he had a hard time finding his favorite square-shaped spaghetti for his favorite lo mein.

“The sauce sticks best to square-shaped noodles,” he said.

It’s common for grocery stores to have 7% to 10% out of stock, but the events of the past two and a half years – pandemic outbreaks, extreme weather conditions, the Russian invasion of Ukraine – have brought that number to a trend. 3 to 5 points higher, said Katie Denis, spokesperson for the Consumer Brands Association.

The availability of pasta and cereals was particularly limited by the war, with “both Ukraine and Russia effectively exiting the market,” he said in an email.

“The weather in Europe last year also limited durum wheat, which specifically affected pasta,” Ms Denis said.

Buyers are also denying themselves.

At the Giant in Gainesville, Virginia, Kimberly Heneault said he stopped in front of a display of coffee creams and saw that they cost twice the usual price.

“‘Oh, you know what? I don’t really need it,” she told herself and moved on.

Ms. Pollack, the California property manager, said that while inflation isn’t putting a strain on her budget, prices have made her reconsider buying that was once impulsive. For example, she almost bought an electric razor for her son, but then she saw it cost $ 90.

“I make so much money all the time,” said Ms. Pollack, 61, “and it’s like, ‘Wow. I didn’t buy anything fun today.’”

Al Elnaggar, 22, and Hamza Mojadidi, 23, students from the University of California, Los Angeles, were also shopping at the Costco in Marina del Rey, where they had purchased several wholesale items, including clementines, cartons of water and ramen noodles.

Mr. Mojadidi said they stopped buying eggs and cut down on Halal meat, which was already more expensive than other cuts, because the animals are slaughtered according to the Muslim religion.

Mr. Mojadidi said they stopped in front of the meat market in Costco, took a look at the lamb shanks and left.

He said he considers himself luckier than the other university students. At least, he said, he has a car and can drive to Costco to buy bulk food and save some money.

“I’m just taking out extra loans to pay my bills,” said Mr. Mojadidi. “I’m running out of credit cards.”