CHICAGO – Foodservice operators can expect prices for pork to ease, but rising demand for poultry will result in higher prices for chicken, the National Restaurant Association reported.

Pork prices are beginning to stabilize following an outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv). Hog prices are expected to average $60-$65 per cwt. in 2015, almost 18 percent below prices in 2014, according to the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture.

"Breeding inventory increases and strong producer farrowing intentions portend pork production increases and lower hog prices in 2015," the USDA said in its Jan. 16 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report. John Barone, restaurant commodities expert, said two factors are impacting the prevalence of PEDv.

“The virus still exists, but two things are happening right now: first, there are two vaccines that seem to be working to a degree,” Barone said. “Second, it looks as though the sows that contracted the virus and passed it along to the piglets in their litters have developed some type of immunity that may be preventing the spread of the disease.”

Barone forecasted prices for pork should register double-digit declines by the second half of 2015.

Prices for chicken are on the upswing, however. USDA reported poultry prices were still higher during December 2014 compared to the previous year despite recent declines in average prices for many broiler products. Breakout prices for key broiler parts also were higher compared with the same time in 2013. For example, boneless/skinless breast meat remains 5.3 percent higher than last year, but prices have fallen more sharply than is seasonally typical in the last three months, USDA noted in its outlook report. The national composite weighted average, wholesale price for broilers was $.98 per lb., an increase of 3.7 percent over 2013 levels, according to USDA.

Barone noted that poultry production is on the rise and prices are reflecting the increase. That could change, however, if demand grows.

“Chicken could result in a bit of a tug of war this year,” Barone said. “There will be a lot more supply, but also a lot more demand. Because of the high cost of beef, anybody who can use chicken for every [limited time offer] out there is going to. Operators last year couldn’t get enough given the increased demand resulting from the high prices of beef and pork. They couldn’t even plan LTOs that required additional chicken volume, especially on chicken breast. This year, there’s going to be extra availability and more demand, but the price —because of that demand — is going to be close to year-ago levels.”

Still, higher wholesale food prices in 2014 pressured foodservice operators and relief in 2015 would be welcomed, said Hudson Riehle, the National Restaurant Association’s senior vice president of research.

“The intensity of the pressure related to higher wholesale food prices has been easing for some operators as prices on certain commodities seem to be moderating,” he said. “But, because overall food costs have increased for several years, prices in general remain elevated. The impact on operators can vary depending on what’s on their menus. For example, beef prices are expected to advance, but pork costs are likely to drop. That will give operators something of a break for now.”