Shoppers remove beef from shopping lists as prices rise 16%

Families on a budget are reducing red meat on their menus after beef prices have risen more than 16% since last year.

Even though red meat prices have eased slightly from their pandemic highs, it’s too late for cash-strapped consumers who have already switched to proteins like chicken, which aren’t a bargain either.

Chicken breasts hit a 16-year high in February at $3.82 per pound, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They’re also up about 13.2% since last year, but that equates to $11.65 a pound for sirloin steak, or $4.63 a pound for ground beef.

More families are swapping burgers and steaks for chicken, say grocers and meat wholesalers, who have also adjusted their purchases.

“We’re seeing this shift toward poultry in lower-income neighborhoods, where consumers who had more disposable income last year are now more cautious about spending,” said Daniel Romanoff, president of Bronx-based meat wholesaler Nebraskaland.

Trays of minced meat.
Ground beef was $4.63 a pound in February.
A meat shelf in a grocery store.
Chicken breast is at a 16-year high at $3.82 a pound.
Jeff Greenberg

And additional inflation in other goods — from gasoline to clothing — takes up an even bigger chunk of grocery budgets as prices for everything are at a 40-year high, up 7.9% year-on-year, according to the latest federal data out Thursday.

Morton Williams, who runs 16 stores in the New York metro area, now buys 30 60-pound cases of ribs a week, down from 60 cases a few months ago, Victor Colello, the grocer’s meat product director, told The Post.

Throughout most of the pandemic, despite historically high prices, demand for beef has been strong as consumers have had more purchasing power, experts say.

“Our chicken business shifted to beef last year, and now in 2022 we’re seeing the opposite,” Romanoff added.

A food worker holds packaged beef over a refrigerated display case.
Inflation has made beef a luxury item for many households.

Rapidly rising inflation is straining budgets and constraining families’ budgets.

Even Walmart, the largest and lowest-cost grocer in the U.S., has hiked prices “dramatically,” according to Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom, who surveyed low-cost retailers across the country in late February and found that the average price increase at Walmart, Target and the dollar stores accounted for 8.1%.

In the fall of 2021, price increases in supermarkets were between 4% and 5%, “but suddenly that almost doubled,” Grom said.

At Walmart, a dozen eggs cost $2.13 in February, up from $1.21 a year ago, while a box of DiGiorno pizzas cost $5.94 in February — or 94 cents more than a year ago — and a gallon of milk 3 Cost $.51 versus $2.82.

“People got their pandemic checks last year, which helped them buy more beef,” said Dean Baker, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Andrew Gottschalk, founder of, which provides market research on the agricultural industry, said wholesale beef prices are starting to come down from their sky-high prices, but that’s not helping consumers on a tight budget.

“Lower income households could afford to move up the protein ladder during the pandemic and that’s where we saw demand for beef improving, but now with inflation their real wage gains are being wiped out,” he said. Shoppers remove beef from shopping lists as prices rise 16%


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