How The Coronavirus Caused Food Prices To Rise On 'Reopening America'

Though coronavirus cases and Covid-19 infections continue to rise, America has started to slowly venture back out to restaurants, retail stores, and hair salons after a months-long lockdown. So Reopening America aims to keep you informed not only about case numbers and vaccine trials, but how exactly we’re going about reopening the economy safely. On this episode, host Oscar Ramirez talks with Wall Street Journal reporter Annie Gasparro about the sharp increase in grocery prices over the past few months. What exactly happened to cause prices to rise? And will we be stuck with this higher grocery bill forever, or can we expect it to get back to normal sometime soon?

Essentially, a perfect storm of circumstances led to higher prices: Meat packing plants shut down, disrupting the supply chain, and when they opened back up, expensive safety measures had to be implemented that slowed down efficiency and increased the cost of doing business. Labor costs rose, and shipping and transportation costs went up as regulations around travel increased. Oscar points to one company who makes protein drinks as an example that had to charter a private jet to get one of their main ingredients from Ireland. And grocery stores stopped offering promotions and discounts, as well. Partly due to higher demand, but also because stores were out of stock on many items – how can they offer a two-for-one deal on something they already don’t have? Annie asks. 

As a result of all this, we’ve seen the “fastest rise in food prices in forty years.” And of course, many Americans are unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic, so these costs are a true concern. But as Annie tells us, the grocery stores haven’t fully felt the effects yet; with restaurants still closed in many states, everyone is cooking at home more frequently than ever, and stimulus checks and additional unemployment benefits have helped keep us spending. Once these benefits start to run out, though, consumers will start heading to discount stores or look for other options to find a bargain. “We’ll see the real effects of these shortages and changes,” Annie says. Listen to the episode for more about the food supply chain and what we might see in the future on Reopening America.

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