In order to ascertain the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic and it’s dislocations on food pricing, I re-booted an old project to track the pricing on a market-basket of typical food items in three local grocery stores. The original pricing for this new project was done in May, 2020 and the pricing for July was completed last week. The results of May 2020 are the base index level of 100. Following are the results and some comments.
First, the Index rose slightly from June’s 100.66 ($89.09/basket) to 100.77 ($89.19/basket). Although prices were relatively stable, increasing by about .1% over the previous month, there was considerable turbulence within the basket of foodstuffs. Specifically:
- As with last month, there were 7 separate items of 111 priced (37 items in the basket at 3 stores) not available at all, for a missing rate of 6.3%. Not only missing from the shelf, but with the shelf label either completely gone or else with a notice that the item is temporarily discontinued. What was also notable about these missing items was that five of the seven were in the locally owned supermarket; the shelves at multiple points in that store also had temporarily discontinued labels on a number of other foodstuff items that were not considered since they were not in the sampled basket. (Note: The attached monthly pricing at the bottom has eight prices missing instead of seven; there hasn’t been a price for 80% ground beef for one store from the outset in May. That store no longer carries 80% ground beef in any form and the missing prices thus exclude that item.)
- Because these items were missing, they were not priced and were thus removed from calculation for the monthly result. It is impossible to say what the basket value would have been had they been on the shelves.
- The largest change however, was seen in the staples section, specifically for five pound bags of flour and four pound bags of sugar ($.09/lb and $.61/lb respectively). Topping that off, the largest supermarket chain (internationally based) simply did not even carry their store brand sugar and were sparse on levels of the name brand sugar.
My wife, BH, linked an article from the NY Times to my phone. Specifically, the writer noted that foodstuffs were reappearing again, most especially toilet paper and flour but that the breadth of product offerings was less. In other words, I can get toilet paper and flour but not in the variety that was offered previously. This would perhaps account for what I am seeing in the locally owned grocery as the store brand, offered via an independent grocer Group Purchasing Organization. The food suppliers are shifting their production to the larger and more flush entities, crippling the offerings of the independent supermarkets. With greater economies of scale among their stores, the larger entities will be at a greater advantage to the smaller independent stores moving forward. So, yeah, Mick was right: you can’t always get what you want, but you can get what you need.