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Why is the cost of food rising?

Keeping meals affordable through flexible menu
Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 5:54 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Expect to pay more for food now, whether you shop the grocery store to cook at home or pay someone else to prepare it. Federal statistics on food costs show consumer costs going up.

According to the Consumer Price Index for the Southeast, “The food index edged up 0.3 percent in May. The food away from home and the food at home indexes each increased over the month, up 0.5 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively. The food index rose 1.7 percent for the 12 months ending in May, reflecting increases in the food away from home (3.0 percent) and food at home (0.8 percent) indexes.”

University of Tennessee Associate Professor of Economics Matthew Harris said you can expect prices to stay up for at least the next few months. “The folks at the USDA saying that they expect moderate increases through the rest of the year,” said Harris. “Beyond that kind of wait and see.”

Those rising food costs are affecting family businesses like that of Chef David Ferguson, founder of Family Meal: Private Chef To Go. “I’m in the store pretty much every day, multiple times a day,” said Ferguson. “And I can tell you it’s gone up pretty much across the board.” As he takes catering orders and plans meals, he must constantly monitor prices for his ingredients, especially meats.

“Day to day you can see the price of beef increase between two to three dollars a pound if not more.” While Ferguson said sometimes the price drops back down temporarily, he cannot lock in definite meal prices for events several months down the road. Instead, he asks clients to agree to pay future market prices, whatever they may be.

Ferguson said this uncertainty about meat prices might be a time for someone planning a wedding or corporate event to consider alternative choices. “So if you’re really locked into chicken breasts, maybe consider a darker piece of meat like chicken thighs or chicken legs which are a little bit more cost effective and actually have a really great flavor that not a lot of people are expecting. Also, slower cooked, braised pieces of meat like pork shoulder or a harder piece of beef, get you farther on your dollar.”

Professor Harris said there are several reasons for rising food prices, starting with people increasing their eating habits during the pandemic and spending more stimulus money on groceries. He also said this involves farming and food processing industries. “Commodity prices have gone up. Corn, wheat, soybean, and that affects everything else that involves those inputs, including particularly meat.” Plus, “Gas prices have gone up. There’s been disruptions in the trucking and transportation sector.”

Chef Ferguson said he will continue adjusting pricing for custom orders as needed, to serve his customers while still surviving as a small, family-run business. “We’ve been really appreciative of the support of Knoxville in general...it’s been really great to see that support.”

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