It’s been over a decade since the U.S. launched its battle against rising inflation. But virtually every grocery product is priced higher than in the past.
Potato chips which could have been bought at $5.36 in the past, could cost $6.17 today. An egg that once is $2.01 now sets you back $4.21. A pound of butter ranged between $3.77 to $4.87.
All across the nation, food costs have squeezed budgets for essential food items. However, at the same time, some major food companies are earning profits. The experts say that these profits are making your food more costly.
“Follow the money, and the story is clear,” the former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted this week. “Food corporations are using inflation as cover to jack up prices.”
The company announced on Tuesday that Conagra Brands-one of the biggest consumer packaged goods firms across the U.S.- announced a more than 60 percent annual increase in profits between December 2022 and February 2023. The Chicago-based firm, which offers a wide array of staples for the grocery store, including chef Boyardee Hunt’s, Slim Jim, and Reddi-wip as well as Marie Callender’s frozen food items, posted a net profit of $342 million, an increase from $219 million reported in the previous quarter prior.
Conagra explained the growth in its quarterly profits to the effect of the rise in inflation, despite having to deal with more significant disruptions to its supply chain than anticipated. Sean Connolly, Conagra’s chief executive, stated during the earnings meeting with investors that Conagra’s revenue increase is “primarily driven by inflation-justified price increases” and the willingness of customers to pay more costs. Conagra didn’t respond to a request for comments.
Connolly said, “While these inflation cycles are painful for manufacturers to go through to a degree, sometimes they’re actually quite good for you because they become a catalyst for getting your pricing right.”
Conagra Brands makes Slim Jim, Reddi-wip, and Marie Callender’s frozen food items and is not the only food manufacturer to earn huge profits.
Conagra isn’t just the one food business that earns money from price hikes driven by inflation. For Kraft-Heinz, a multinational food and beverage company that produces Oscar Mayer, Jell-O, and Kool-Aid, profits for the period that ended at the closing of 2022 were almost 450% higher than the previous year, which was $887 million. Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the U.S., more than doubled its earnings between the first two quarters of 2021-2022. Additionally, General Mills, which owns Kix, Trix, Chex, and other well-known cereal brands, saw its fourth-quarter profits in the year before increase by 97 percent compared to the prior quarter. General Mills has raised prices five times since 2021 and said last month that a price increase may come. (Profits decreased at each of Tyson and General Mills in the most recent quarter, but not by much.)
In the past year, the cost of meals at home has increased nearly 10 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with certain items going more. Cereals and bakery items are rising 14.6 percent from a year ago, followed by dairy and non-alcoholic drinks, which have increased by 12.3 percent. Other major grocery store food categories–meats and fresh fruits are growing by 6.8 percent and 5.4 percent in the respective categories. Price increases have been easing during the past few weeks. However, there is no sign of them going back to levels pre-pandemic.
The pattern suggests that the packaged foods industry profits from passing cost increases onto American consumers. In addition, as more food businesses are reaping the benefits of more profit, the result could be the prices of your groceries staying at the current levels of inflation for a more extended period, according to Chris Becker, a senior economist at Groundwork Collaborative, which promotes the left-leaning policies in economics.
“When shareholders see that other corporations are getting away with high pricing, they start wanting to get in on it,” he states. “So other corporations then raise prices to deliver profit margins.”
Consumers may only reduce spending if reasonably priced in other sectors, such as furniture and electronics. However, that’s fine for the food industry executives, Becker says, since most people require food items to survive.
“Food companies are taking advantage of this very precarious moment,” says Irit Tamir, director of Oxfam’s Private Sector division that aims to combat inequality to end poverty and injustice. “They are hiding behind a perfect story of the pandemic, inflation, and the Ukraine war to say that they need to raise prices, but they are just creating a smash and grab for profit, exploiting and exacerbating inflation.”
It’s not just packaged food companies seeing an increase in profits due to rising prices, claims Joe Maxwell, the president of Farm Action, a nonprofit that fights the influence of corporations in the farming industry. Food producers and food suppliers are reaping the same benefits.
Cal-Maine Foods, the largest egg producer in the U.S., reported that its revenue doubled, and profit jumped 718 percent during the quarter due to higher egg prices. It is a company that controls around 20 percent of its share of the U.S. egg market. It reported its average retail price per dozen eggs during February. 25 was $3.30, over twice the $1.61 one year ago.
The company has blamed an increase in the supply of eggs across the nation due to the avian flu epidemic as the cause of higher rates and record numbers. Avian flu, ravaging farm animals across the U.S., wiped out about 58 million birds during the past year. However, Farm Action believes that price-gouging’s another factor to blame. In a December Letter sent to Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the group claimed that Cal-Maine Foods is engaging in “a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an avian flu outbreak into an opportunity to extract egregious profits.”
Maxwell, who was the former Democratic Lieutenant. Governor of Missouri Maxwell says that the agricultural and food industries have been consolidated into a handful of large corporations and that there is no incentive to increase market share through competition about price. “The market dynamics do not work,” he claims. “Today, a primary cause of food inflation in this country is the market concentration that allows for price gouging.”
Democratic legislators Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Katie Porter called out Cal-Maine and other large egg producers to ensure more transparency about their financials. “American families working to put food on the table deserve to know whether the increased prices they are paying for eggs represent a legitimate response to reduced supply or out-of-control corporate greed,” they sent in a letter back in February.
“Companies have admitted that they are raising prices not because of costs, but because they can,” Tamir states. “They are essentially hiding behind a lot of these excuses as a way to gouge consumers.”