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U.S. July Fourth cookouts feel the heat of soaring food prices

Jun 30, 2022
Owner, William Begale, and one of his employees cut meat in the butcher's cutting room at Paulina Meat Market in Chicago

By Bianca Flowers and Christopher Walljasper

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Summer cookouts are getting more expensive ahead of the U.S. Independence Day holiday, forcing Americans to make tough decisions about how they celebrate.

Prices for barbecue items such as hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans and lemonade climbed 17% compared with a year ago, according to a survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation this week, with the average cost of a basket of cookout menu items for 10 people climbing to $69.68. The National Retail Federation pegged a similar cookout at $84.12.

U.S. inflation marked the largest annual increase in four decades in May, cutting into consumer buying power and spurring fears of a recession. Global food prices began rising in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic disruptions and worsened after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“My grocery bill used to be about $250 to $300 a month – now it’s skyrocketed to over $400,” said Anya Novikova, a student at Chicago’s Rush University who is planning a road trip over the holiday weekend despite high gasoline prices. “I’m probably just going to get groceries and cook my own meals at home because I’m trying to keep my grocery bill under $300.”

Some price tags have soared more than others, according to research from Wells Fargo. Avocado prices climbed 24% versus a year ago as supply chains have slowed shipments, while beer prices jumped 25% since 2021, following grain, a key ingredient, higher.

Prices of ground beef used to make hamburgers soared to an all-time high earlier this year, also pressured by high prices of corn used to feed cattle. Prices of some products have come down slightly in recent months, but remain high.

“Meats were always a seasonal thing. In the summer steaks are expensive – in the winter, the chuck is expensive because everybody is cooking pot roast,” said William Begale, owner of Paulina Market in Chicago. “It wasn’t like that during the pandemic – it just kept going up and never came down.”

Chicken wings and breasts, meanwhile, have climbed 38% and 24% since February year-over-year, respectively, according to research from Wells Fargo.

Farm Bureau pegged ground beef prices up 36% from 2021, while lemonade added 22%.

Megan Backes, 40, a stay-at-home mom in Chicago, said her family is not cooking out, but instead will join another celebration, which helps cut down on grocery costs.

“We’re going to someone else’s house. They’re hosting, so they’re buying most of the stuff. We appreciate glomming on to somebody else,” she said.

(Reporting by Christopher Walljasper and Bianca Flowers in Chicago; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)