Meat Inflation Skyrockets as Pork Shortage and Backyard Barbecues Heat Up

by Jennifer Shea

In June, U.S. consumer prices for pork shot up by more than they have in the past 25 years. The cause of the meat inflation? A shortage of hogs combined with a rise in backyard barbecuing.

Last month, pork prices rose 3.8% from May, and beef prices jumped by 4%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed. According to Bloomberg, the higher meat prices led to the largest surge in U.S. consumer prices since 2008.

Overall, the United Nations recently said that global food prices skyrocketed by their fastest monthly rate in more than a decade this May.

Meat Inflation Is Due to a Confluence of Factors

Part of the problem is that American hog herds haven’t yet bounced back from culling that happened earlier in the pandemic. But overall food inflation has been creeping up since the pandemic hit, disrupting supply chains as coronavirus outbreaks shut down meat plants and consumers cooked more food at home.

As if that weren’t enough, global droughts have raised the price of animal feed. And slaughterhouse labor shortages have also driven up the prices of pork, beef and chicken.

Because of the meat supply shortage, retailers had to pay more in the wholesale market for meat. They then passed those price hikes on to consumers. But there is some potential relief from meat inflation in sight. As a heat wave blankets parts of the U.S., people may be doing less outdoor grilling and choose to eat out at restaurants instead. That may nudge grocers to drop their prices to goose demand.

“Fresh pork prices have started to come down,” Altin Kalo, an analyst at Steiner Consulting Group in Manchester, New Hampshire, told Bloomberg. “Inflation at food service is stickier and probably will persist going forward.” Food service refers to food prepared outside of people’s homes.

This Is Peak Grilling Season

Grilling season peaks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Last year, grilling declined due to social distancing guidelines and other pandemic precautions. But sales of outdoor grills rose during the pandemic, according to Benzinga, suggesting that this year may be a boom year for outdoor barbecues.

Unfortunately, in addition to the supply chain issues driving up prices of meat, there are also cyberattacks to consider. JBS, the world’s biggest meat company by sales, recently temporarily halted production amid soaring demand due to a cyberattack.

And it’s not just pork and beef. Meat inflation includes chicken, too. Consumers were paying about 11% more for chicken breast after the pandemic hit last March than they had a year earlier.

It may take some time for meat prices to return to their pre-pandemic levels. In the meantime, U.S. consumers are going to be taking a hit if they want to grill.