With gas prices at their lowest August price since 2010, 34.7 million Americans will hit the road this weekend for Labor Day, according to AAA. But the money they save filling up their tanks could be spent filling up their stomachs due to the rising prices of many staple barbecue foods.
Here’s a quick guide on what foods and drinks to avoid during the unofficial last weekend of summer and some alternative treats to keep the party going (after all, bathing suit season is over now).
Guacamole is a favorite at summer gatherings, but drought-stricken California is the leading grower of its star ingredient, avocados — meaning there are a lot less to go around, according to CNBC. The popularity of avocados has soared in recent years, which are hailed for their healthy fats and creamy texture.
The average price of avocados increased by nearly 15 percent in the past year, Sherry Frey, Vice President of Nielsen Perishables Group told NBC News.
Still, your chips don’t have to go without dip. Beans prices remain relatively low and even dropped a bit since last year, according to the North Harvest Bean Growers Association. And garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, are the base of hummus. Guests won’t even miss the guac.
On the Grill: Meat
Beef prices have nearly doubled in ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). At almost four dollars a pound, party hosts could be paying a buck a burger for each guest, and that’s before the fixings. “Compared to 2011, staple proteins like beef and pork are now two to three times as sensitive to price increases,” Frey said.
The high price of beef is partly due to the ongoing drought in the Plains, Southwest and Western U.S., where most of the beef cow inventory is farmed. Wheat, which is used to fatten up the cows, is also farmed in those regions and the lack of rain means a limited food supply for the cattle, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
While U.S. cattle supply suffers, exports of beef from the U.S. have increased by 5 percent, and imports have only increased by 1 percent, leaving less beef for American vendors. “The harsh reality is that the U.S. beef cattle herd is at its lowest level since 1951, with any significant herd expansion being years away,” said John Keating, president of Cargill Beef, when a Cargill plant was closed in July.
Pork prices are on the rise for similar reasons, but chicken prices have declined slightly since the beginning of the year, according to the BLS. Chicken is only about $1.50 a pound because, as grain prices soar due to low supply, corn prices are down by 10 percent, according to the USDA. Turkey production is also rising due to the lower corn prices, the USDA reports, and for the frugal gourmand, ground turkey can easily replace ground beef in a burger.
On the Grill: Seafood
Shrimp kebabs might not be the best for the menu this year, since the crustacean has jumped in price by more than 50 percent in the past four years, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While other types of seafood are seeing growth in both demand and volume, shrimp volume has not increased at all in 2012, according to the Nielsen Perishables Group. Other shellfish has also risen in price, according to Nielson, but not all seafood will take a bite out of your budget.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cod, haddock and scallops have all dropped in price during the end of the summer. Haddock (often found in fish and chips) is especially wallet-friendly at 59 cents a pound on average, according to the NOAA.
After the Meal: Caffeine
Coffee prices have been on a steady rise for at least a decade, nearly doubling in price since 2004, according to the BLS. And the trend continued last year due to a record drought in Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer, leading coffee brands from Folgers to Starbucks to raise their prices, according to the International Monetary Fund.
After a day in the sun, Labor Day revelers can still count on a jolt, though. Weak demands in countries that usually turn to tea have led to a 6 percent drop in tea leaf prices, according to the IMF.
Wash it Down: Beverages
The recent earthquake in Napa destroyed an estimated $1 billion worth of wine, but Labor Day is too early for prices to feel the ripple effects, experts said. Even so, those looking to save money should probably put away the corkscrew.
Vino has increased by 81 cents a liter, according to the BLS — that works out to 60 cents more a bottle, on average. The increase price is, again, due to the drought in California, which is leaving grape crops dry in the wine epicenter of the U.S.
While alcohol inherently isn't cheap, the demand for beer has dropped significantly in the past two decades. Since the 1990s, the percentage of adults under 30 who grabbed a beer most often declined by 30 percent leading to domestic sellers to rely on promotions and sales, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. So grab a cold one on Labor Day, or ice that budget-friendly tea, and cheers to the last bash of the summer.
First published August 29 2014, 4:33 PM