Bringing home the bacon is no easy feat these days as pork prices reach record levels, spiking nearly 30% compared to this time last year, according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The breakfast staple is selling for $7 a pound for the first time in a decade, Consumer Price Index data show, and industry experts say more “moderate” pricing isn’t likely until well into 2022.
So what’s driving the latest hike in pork prices?
“Consumer demand is No. 11,” Steve Meyer, an economist with Partners For Production Agriculture, told McClatchy News, noting that demand for pork has been strong since coronavirus restrictions began to loosen over the summer.
“People, I think, through the COVID shut down discovered that pork is a great value because when they had to go to a grocery store and buy product, they could actually compare pork to beef and chicken, which you don’t get to do much (when dining) at restaurants,” Meyer said.
A decrease in hogs has also “tightened” the pork supply, he said, citing the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and another viral disease known as PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) that affects swine breeding and production.
Conglomerates hog meat supply chain
In a report last month, the White House pointed to “a lack of competition at a key bottleneck point” in meat processing as another factor contributing to higher pork prices. Officials said meat, including beef and poultry, account for half of price increases for “food at home” items since December 2020.
“Just four large conglomerates control the majority of the market for (beef, pork and poultry), and the data show that these companies have been raising prices while generating record profits during the pandemic,” advisers of President Joe Biden’s administration wrote in a Sept. 8 briefing. “That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration is taking bold action to enforce the antitrust laws, boost competition in meat-processing, and push back on pandemic profiteering that is hurting consumers, farmers, and ranchers across the country.”
In addition to supply chain issues, the rising price of feed has some farmers debating whether to eat the cost on their end — or pass it on to consumers.
Aysha Maddox, who owns Maddox Farm in Malad, Idaho, told Utah Public Radio the price of grain feed jumped 30% between January and February of this year.
“But we’re really we’re trying to ride it out and hoping that things will come back down,” Maddox told the station in June. “If it doesn’t come back down, then yeah, we’re gonna have to raise our prices. Because we definitely want to stay in business.”
When could pork prices fall?
The news isn’t all bad, however. Industry experts expect pork production will be up a couple of percent by next year.
“2021 has been a very good year for producers,” said Meyer with Partners For Production Agriculture. “So I think they’ll try to put in some more sows and expand production next year. So we’ll have more product available ... and probably mitigate these prices some.”
“I don’t see that meaning cheap pork by any stretch,” he added, “but I say we’re gonna moderate prices in 2022.”
For now, Meyer says bacon lovers can “buy all they want (and) we’ll make more.”
“The price may be pretty strong, but it’s never going to be an issue of being able to buy pork. It’ll be out there.”