Supermarket Shock: Why Are Food Prices On the Rise?

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Economy, Family, Food, food insecurity, Food Stamps, Health, Health Care, Media, Money, Queens, NY

Currents News Staff

Making dinner and gathering around the table: it’s an important activity to the Carbones who live in Richmond Hill, queens.

 “An essential part of our family is dinner time,” Joseph said. “We’ve never strayed from that.”

 While family dinners remain a constant for them, something they can’t control is causing concern.

 “Especially the last year,” said Jenny. “It’s definitely noticeable how prices are higher.”

 The Carbones’ grocery bill is skyrocketing. It began when COVID starting spreading in New York.

 “It stabilized a little bit, but it’s still higher than before,” Jenny added.

 Jenny says a year ago, their average bill for one delivery would be just under $200.

“Now every time I place an order it’s either $240, $250,” she said, “and no matter how I tweak it or switch it around, it always ends up being over $200.”

The Carbones aren’t alone.

With current prices, half a gallon of milk is about four dollars; a dozen eggs are about three dollars and a package of bacon is about eight dollars. That’s 15 dollars for just three breakfast items. Someone making minimum wage in New York would have to work one hour to cover the cost of just one meal.

The pandemic is causing an unusual leap in food prices – the highest in almost a decade with the biggest jump in animal products like beef, veal, pork and eggs.

 Several factors play into the rise.

I think the food sector has been profoundly disrupted,” said Nick Freudenberg, “and it’s been disrupted on every front.”

Nick is from CUNY’s Urban Food Policy Institute. He says it comes down to supply and demand.

“Because they didn’t follow safety precautions in some of those big meatpacking plants, a lot of their workers got sick, so they had to slow down,” he said.

The same goes with distribution, according to supermarket guru Phil Lempert, who runs Consumer Insight Group.

“It broke the supply chain,” he said. “We didn’t have trucks where we needed them. There’s containers that used to bring in imported foods that are stuck in other countries.”

While much of the U.S. is slowly reopening – these factors are expected to linger.

But even before COVID hit, food prices were already heading up with increases to the minimum wage.

“Somebody’s got to pay for that,” Phil added, “and that’s going to be you and me.”

Other shoppers like Marco Colacito are finding big savings at European grocery store chains Aldi and Lidl. New stores are popping up all over the tri-state area.

“I went to Lidl on a whim,” Marco said. “The shopping experience was really nice.”

Currents News decided to check it out too. We stopped by a Lidl, pronounced leedle, in New Jersey and found significantly lower prices for store brands and brand names.

  •   A dozen eggs are $1.52
  •  Half gallon of milk is $2.22
  •  And bacon is $3.99

 For a total of $7.73

That’s almost a 50 percent difference from average prices. 

“To me, it’s to supplement some of my other shopping,” Marco said. “I think that’s the best way that we’re using it right now, but it’s making a significant difference with the dollar, with stretching the dollar.”

And there are still other ways to save.

For families looking to cut costs, Phil suggests slowing down. That might sound silly, but since the pandemic hit, a person’s average trip to the grocery store has dropped from 22 minutes about 2 times a week – to 10 minutes only once a week, leaving less time to shop around for the best deal.

The question is: Will prices ever come down?

Phil says it will take time.

Because when you think about the manufacturing of food, you can’t react overnight,” he said.

Even though the economy is recovering, people are still struggling to make ends meet. Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens is helping. They have food pantries around the Diocese of Brooklyn.

If you need help or know a family who’s experiencing food insecurity, call 718-722-6001 or go to the site,