SCRANTON, Pa. — You may have noticed, as you're food shopping, that you're spending more money these days, especially on meat. Local grocery stores tell Newswatch 16 that prices are going up for them, and they're doing what they can to keep things affordable for shoppers.
In the frigid meat cooler at the back of Gerrity's Supermarket in Scranton, co-owner Joe Fasula has boxes and boxes of meat. The box labels include EXCEL, Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., and ELITE. The different brands signify Fasula’s constant quest for the cheapest chow.
"As long as we know that it's USDA Grade A beef, we will buy from any of the major processors, and we just try to get the best price for our customers," Fasula said.
Fasula says ever since the pandemic began, meat suppliers are charging more.
"We're starting to see, especially beef, just explode,” he said.
That leaves customers paying more to bring home the bacon.
"Sometimes I'll go to different markets, and it's like really, it's gone up tragically high,” said Roseanne Rukse, who was shopping at Gerrity’s.
"I think you're going to have to go and, a couple of you go in and buy half a cow or something,” another shopper, Dorothia Wheeler, said.
Rukse says she's even seen the price of chicken going up as much as $3 in just the past couple of weeks.
"Boneless chicken breast,” she said. “Forget it. Really high, very, very high.”
"Chicken is at an all-time high,” Fasula said. “And we don't see a lot of relief in any of those."
Fasula says things were improving after initial factory shutdowns and slower production at the pandemic's start, but with food services and cruises reopening, supply is not meeting demand.
Now, Fasula says he's seeing major worker shortages in the meat processing industry.
"There's constantly issues with supply, production, trucking, deliveries,” he said.
A source from Weis Markets tells Newswatch 16 that not only are processors short-staffed, but every step of the supply chain is affected: from fuel price increases to truck driver shortages.
The White House, in a blog Wednesday, said prices for beef have risen by 14 percent, pork by 12.1 percent, and poultry by 6.6 percent since December 2020. It pointed to four large conglomerates controlling meat supply and says it's “cracking down on illegal price-fixing” and directing $1.4 in pandemic assistance “to provide relief to small producers, processors, distributors, farmers markets, seafood processors, and food and farm workers impacted by COVID-19.”
The North American Meat Institute says it's not that simple. In a statement, it pointed to "a persistent and widespread labor shortage" during a global pandemic.