Barbecue fans are having a rough summer. For months, meat prices across the country have been steadily creeping higher.
Depending on the cut of meat, some have doubled, or even tripled, from this time last year. And it’s not just meat. Restaurants also report that prices for produce are up, as are paper products and to-go containers.
“But over the last four months,” says Cou-yon’s Bar-B-Q owner Paul Mladenka, “we’ve seen an unbelievable rise in the price of brisket, ribs and wings.”
Other Baton Rouge area restaurant operators tell a similar story.
“It’s been crazy,” BRQ chef and partner Justin Ferguson says. “Beef has doubled for the most part. We go through over 2,000 pounds in a week. And when that doubles in price, we can’t really double our menu price, so it’s been a major hit. We had to take ribeyes off our menu because what we’d have to sell them for, no one’s going to want to pay.”
Brisket has tripled in price and is now on par with past prices of its Wagyu equivalent, Ferguson says. Shrimp and lump crabmeat are also at an all-time high, he says, with lump crabmeat going from $23 per pound to $40 per pound.
“It’s the whole industry, across the board,” says Nick Hufft, owner of Curbside Burgers and The Overpass Merchant, who has seen a 20% rise in ground beef prices over the past six to eight months. “And it’s not just food costs, but to-go containers. We haven’t passed that cost on yet, but that’s been tough.”
The nationwide spike in meat prices, in particular, is due to a number of factors, economists say. Transportation costs are high, and so is grain. Labor shortages, already a thorny issue for the server-starved restaurant industry, are causing supply chain slowdowns in meatpacking plants. Meanwhile, demand for meat is up across the country as onsite dining returns to normal.
“We haven’t seen a let-up on price increases with meats,” Blaise Calandro of Calandro’s Supermarkets says. “We get a price book every week from our suppliers, and in the column where it designates if a price is staying the same, going down or going up, we see pretty much nothing but increases. It’s been a row of plus signs.”
Like other supermarkets, Calandro’s meat prices are now higher for consumers, but they still represent a lower profit margin for the grocery store, Calandro says.
Restaurants and caterers are left to figure out how to weather what they hope is a temporary problem.
“When something like this happens, you’re faced with a few choices if you want to stay in business,” Mladenko says. “You can raise your prices. You can cut your portions. Or you can use a different product. We’re not going to cut quantity or quality, so we had to raise our prices. They’re the highest they’ve been in 12 years in business. We hope to bring them back down when prices come down.”
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