Ground beef prices in the U.S. have soared 76 percent since 2009 and are now the highest on record while the size of the beef herd has dropped to its lowest numbers in at least six decades according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
But consumer habits have not shifted away from this staple food, which Creston HyVee Manager Chuck Irelan credits to a consistent effort by the beef industry to keep buyers informed.
“I think that the information has been out there enough that the increase in prices have not been a shock,” Irelan said. “Customers have come in and know what to expect.”
The USDA predicts that beef prices will rise faster than almost any other commodity this year.
Beef demand peaks during the summer, especially during the Fourth of July holiday. The total herd has been diminished by drought in Texas and high feed prices. According to the USDA, the U.S. started the year with only 87.7 million head.
Cattle herds take time to replenish. A calf born in the spring of 2013 would be bred this year, might have a calf in 2015 and that calf couldn’t come to market until 2016.
The NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll predicts the overall improvement of the economy will prevent consumers from getting priced out of the beef market.
“I have not seen anyone proclaim that we are rebuilding the herd,” said Iowa Beef Industry Council Executive Director Nancy Degner. “What we are hearing from auction markets and producers, however, is there are fewer older cows going to market.”
Despite the price spike, both Irelan and Degner agree there are still multiple ways to keep beef on the menu in a cost-effective manner.
Jim Anthony, meat department manager at Fareway in Creston, said business has been good as customers prepare for the Fourth of July holiday.
Save some green
Irelan said HyVee has continued to work for the best deals possible from their buyer to keep prices as low as possible for customers.
“Look at the cuts that are on feature,” Degner said. “All stores have ads that feature beef. If you find a cut that is good in price, buy extra, properly wrap it and store it.”
Irelan said steaks are always a popular choice this time of year for grilling, but he suggests trying different cuts from the rib eye steak to the chuck eye steak.
“Really, what we have been seeing more than anything else right now has been the convenient grilling items like brats, hamburgers and hot dogs.”
Degner said another way to save is to buy ground beef for cooking in bulk.
To learn about different cuts of beef and get recipes for preparing them, the Iowa Beef Industry Council has a “butcher counter” link at www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com.
Irelan said customers realize it is not just beef prices that have been increasing. The prices have been higher across the board.
“We hope people continue to put beef on the grill for the Fourth of July and that people recognize the value they get from beef,” Degner said.