By Emily Drooby
HARTFORD — Jenny Carbone remembers a year ago when her family grocery bill was just under $200 per online order. Now, that same bill is skyrocketing and has become a growing concern.
“Every time I place an order it’s $240, $250, and no matter how I tweak it or switch it around, it always ends up being over $200,” Carbone said.
The Carbones, who consider dinner time “an essential part” of their family’s routine, aren’t alone. The pandemic has sparked the highest leap in food prices in almost a decade, with the biggest jump seen in the cost of animal products like beef, veal, pork, and eggs.
At the moment, a half-gallon of milk is about $4, a dozen eggs are $3, and a package of bacon is about $8 — a total of $15 for three breakfast items. With that bill, someone making minimum wage in New York would have to work an hour to cover the cost of one meal.
Nick Freudenberg, the director of the Urban Food Policy Institute at the City University of New York, attributes the rise to supply and demand.
“I think the food sector has been profoundly disrupted and it’s been disrupted on every front,” Freudenberg said. “Because they didn’t follow safety precautions in some of those big meatpacking plants and a lot of their workers got sick so they had to slow down.”
There’s a similar problem with distribution, according to Phil Lempert, who leads Insight Consumer Group and is known as the “Supermarket Guru.”
“It broke the supply chain,” Lempert said of the pandemic. “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.”
Even as much of the U.S. begins to reopen, the factors that lead to higher food prices are expected to linger. Even before COVID-19, food prices were already rising along with increases to minimum wage.
“Somebody’s got to pay for that,” Lempert said, “and that’s going to be you and me.”
Other shoppers like Marco Colacito, however, are finding big savings at European grocery store chains like Aldi and Lidl.
On a recent trip to a Lidl, Currents News found significantly lower prices for store-brand and brand-name items. A dozen eggs were $1.52, half a gallon of milk was $2.22, and a package of bacon was $3.99, for a total of $7.93. That is about half the cost of the same items at a traditional grocery store.
“To me, it’s to supplement some of my other shopping,” Colacito said. “I think that’s the best way that we’re using it right now. It’s making a significant difference with stretching the dollar.”
Lempert said another way families can cut costs is by cutting back. Since the pandemic hit, the average person’s trip to the grocery store has dropped from about 22 minutes twice a week, to 10 minutes once a week, which leaves less time to find the best deals.
Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens is one resource for families that are struggling with food pantries located around the Diocese of Brooklyn. If you need help or know a family who’s experiencing food insecurity call (718) 722-6001, or visit their website ccbq.org.
As for whether or not the prices will ever come down, Lempert said it will take time “because when you think about the manufacturing of food, you can’t react overnight.”