CHARLESTON, SC – Sticker shock is being experienced by US consumers as retail meat-case prices increase, Sherry Frey of the Perishables Group told the National Chicken Council’s-US Poultry & Egg Association Food Media Seminar in Charleston, SC, last week. In January, average retail prices of meat and poultry items increased 8.8 percent compared to the same month in 2010, relayed the April 8 edition of NCC’s Washington Report.

Consumers also cut back on the quantities purchased across all major categories in the meat case, even as dollar amounts rose, she said, with chicken taking the smallest volume hit. Beef purchases decreased 3.6 percent in volume while increasing 1.3 percent in dollars; chicken dropped 1.5 percent in volume while getting a 0.3 percent gain in value; pork declined in volume by 7.2 percent while gaining a 1.1 percent increase in dollars; and turkey experienced a 2.5 percent decrease in volume with a near-mirror image of 2.7 percent increase in value.

Capturing 53.1 percent of the total, beef holds the largest dollar share of fresh meat purchases in retail grocery, she said. Chicken was in second place with 24.9 percent, followed by pork at 14.7 percent and turkey with 5.6 percent she added. Chicken breasts account for 55 percent of the dollar volume of chicken sales, she added.

Approximately 65 percent of the food price increase is due to general inflation and about 35 percent to soaring commodity prices, said Dr. Chris Hurt of Purdue University. Although crude oil is up 44 percent since January 2010, it is still far below its 2008 peak, while corn is trading at all-time highs and wheat and soybeans have increased sharply, he said.

Pork prices will go up as much as 6% to 7% this year, beef and veal 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent and poultry 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, Hurt predicted.