If you’re planning to buy some beef to throw on the grill over the next few weeks, expect to pay up to three times more than you did just a couple of years ago, when our domestic supply was plentiful due to a historic cattle selloff. Since 2021, ranchers have been coping with drought and record feed prices, which forced many of them to send their animals for slaughter earlier than usual. And while that led to a higher supply and steadier prices back then, now it is resulting in falling production, empty shelves, and a painful spike in prices at grocery stores.
According to industry sources familiar with the matter, we’re about to see the worst of meat shortages, and costs are about to explode for US consumers, who may have to trade their traditional steaks for cheaper alternatives for the rest of the year and into 2024.
Our domestic beef cow herd is currently at its smallest size since 1962. And now ranchers who fatten cattle have finally gained leverage in sales negotiations over the meatpackers that dominate the market. The US Department of Agriculture reports that tightening cattle supplies are expected to cause a significant year-over-year decrease in beef production, the first decline since 2015.
The biggest thing that looms large in the minds of market analysts right now is how the recession is going to affect the meatpacking industry from now on. Despite the predictions for demand reduction, these companies are likely to pass on even higher costs to consumers as they pay more to ranchers and feeders for their shrinking supply of cattle. Last month, live cattle futures prices reached a record 177.700 cents per pound for the front month. The peak was up 26% from a year earlier and 118% from the same period in 2021.
Paying more for cattle cuts into the meatpackers’ profitability. That’s why they have to charge more for ground beef and steaks at a time of high inflation. For that reason, analysts forecast that beef prices can actually triple at the stores this year. In 2021, the average retail price for choice beef in the first quarter was about $7.60 a pound, 0.6% lower than a year earlier, Agriculture Department data show. In May, reports have shown that beef prices reached up to $20.99 in certain stores, three times higher than they were just a couple of years ago.
Some shoppers are trading down by going for cheaper items or shopping at bargain stores. Supply chain issues and a reluctance to strike deals with suppliers while commodities prices surge are also contributing to widespread shortages of everyday items, including carbonated beverages, oils, fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts.
It is safe to say that by the end of the summer, supplies will get even tighter, and shelves will look even barer than they are right now.
The shortages we’ve been warned about are already here, and they will only aggravate from this point on. It’s time to ensure a reliable supply of essentials before items vanish from stores and retailers start to charge even more for their products. So stock up on what you can because the months ahead are going to be exceedingly difficult.