Drought, Diseases and Food Price Increases, Oh My…

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2014 has already seen a number of food price increases, resulting from worldwide struggles with weather, infestations and transportation. Farms, ranches, greenhouses, communities; nearly everyone is at risk of failed crops, less pollination, insects, diseases, or just plain tough times ahead. Here, Bottleneck Management’s Corporate Executive Chef Paul Katz shares some of the recent foods most affected, resulting in shortages and price changes.

Examples of Food Price Increases


At $5.28/pound, the retail price of beef hit a record high this February – in large part thanks to side effects caused by ongoing droughts and extreme weather across the U.S. As of January, the number of American cattle herds were at their smallest since the 1950s, and the long, cold winter (and subsequent frozen grazing conditions) made it tough for some cows to put on weight. So when can we expect the prices to drop again? Probably not this year: According to the USDA, beef prices are projected to rise 2.5–3.5 percent over the course of 2014.


A virus that’s killed off as many as 6 million U.S. piglets and shrunk the nation’s pig market by around 3 percent has led to a U.S. pork shortage, and subsequent sky-high prices. As of February, the price of pork had ballooned 13 percent from a year ago, at $5.46/pound. And the culprit, porcine epidemic diarrhea (also known as PED), could lead to a 7 percent drop in the U.S. pork market this year. Until farmers can figure out how to stop the spread of the disease, prices will likely stay high.


An international outbreak of something called acute hepatopancreatic necrosis syndrome – also known as early mortality syndrome, or EMS — has left American consumers with a major shrimp deficit. According to the Wall Street Journal, Thailand, the world’s chief shrimp producer, has seen its product plummet by 40 percent, which in turn has led to a 20 percent jump in American prices. At the moment, scientists are still trying to figure out where EMS comes from and how they can eliminate it. In the meantime, shrimp prices are up 61 percent from 2013.


In light of a slew of meat-related shortages (see: beef, shrimp, and pork) producers of chicken — which, at an average of $1-1.04 per pound for a wholesale boiler, is actually up 4.3 percent from 2013 — are making a run on the protein market. Even with rising prices, chicken is still cheaper than the alternatives. As of April, whole chicken sales in Georgia had risen by 9.2 percent since the end of 2012; and while the USDA says that, overall, the average farm business net cash income will decline in 2014, farms that specialize in poultry are expected to see gains. The poultry industry is not wasting any opportunities to push its product on an amenable market: According to Bloomberg, fast-food brands like McDonald’s are adding (cheap) new chicken products to their menus as a way to maximize their profits.


Americans have long relied on Mexico for their lime imports, but a confluence of recent events south of the border have resulted in significant shortages of, and sky-high prices for, the tangy citrus crop. According to the New York Times, heavy rains at the end of 2013 destroyed lime blossoms, leading to a two-thirds reduction in lime exports to the U.S. The Mexican lime market had already been hit by a 2009 bacterial outbreak in several of the country’s lime-growing regions. Now there are also reports that Mexican criminal cartels, which have allegedly taken over a significant portion of the Mexican produce market, are hijacking lime shipments and extorting farmers. The result? Good luck finding a cheap margarita this summer: Cases of the citrus are going for around $1.49/lb – or more than $100 for a case.

Orange Juice

As a bacterial disease called “greening” ravages citrus groves in Florida, the orange crop’s expected yield is down by 110 million boxes of fruit – an 18 percent dip from last year. Juice prices are going up. According to Yahoo!, news of the orange shortage caused a spike in prices for frozen concentrate, and juice for May delivery is going for $1.67 a pound.


The U.S. isn’t the only country suffering from droughts and other crop-killing weather: a historic drought in Brazil recently laid waste to much of the nation’s coffee-growing region, and the consequent shortages have already started causing price spikes. Case in point: Coffee shipments for July reached $2.04/pound in recent weeks.

So there we have it; a lot of food is becoming more expensive to source, if you are lucky enough to find it, and much of the restaurant industry will struggle with the food price increases as the year continues.

While there’s no short-term answer, being flexible, adapting menus, and having established relationships with quality suppliers can help respond to the food price increases. But will the recession-recovering (and, hungry) U.S. market order one less margarita, or quench their appetite in other forms? The coming months will tell.

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