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An Economist’s Holiday Guide


4th of July Meal Planning by the Numbers


According to the BBQ Index Report, 2024 might be the last year we’ll be able to host a 4th of July cookout for a few friends for under $100. Food inflation has climbed up 25% over the last five years making purchasing just about all of our holiday staples painful on the pocketbook.


This economist suggests pursuing a cost share option. If you can swing it, a potluck is the way to go. Diffuse the impact of inflated food prices with a BYOB and favorite side dish invite. Maybe Aunt Sue has a few extra burger patties stashed in her freezer and you can avoid paying $6.38 for a pound of ground beef.


Marinating in the Numbers

Meat

We expected chicken and egg prices to be high due to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu. Recent outbreaks have led to the culling of millions of hens. Fortunately, broiler hen prices have come down by 4% in the last year making chicken a reasonable option for your menu.  Laying hens haven’t fared quite as well. Unless you can grab them from your backyard, making deviled eggs will be a bit more expensive this year with a dozen eggs still selling for around $3.


If burgers, brisket or steak are you go-to grilling favorites, you’ll need to brace yourself for the bill. Cattle inventories are still low, as is the amount of beef currently in cold storage.  Without an influx of cows being processed to replace depleted supplies prices will stay high. The cost of ground beef has climbed another 11% this year. Prime cuts like brisket or rib eyes are up around $10.00 to $12.00 per pound.


Beverages

The BBQ Index Report estimates that 27% of your cookout budget will go for beer this year. Alcoholic or non-alcoholic, it seems to be the number one staple for the holiday. The beer industry has been steadily raising prices for over a decade. Interestingly though, beer has been in market decline due to competition with cocktails now readily available in cans. But, beer still holds the largest percentage for Fourth of July barbeque spending.


Soda pop, on the other hand, might rank low on the grocery list because it is still expensive. Prices have skyrocketed as companies navigate production cost increases, supply chain complications and new soda taxes. According to the report, if you choose to offer soda at your BBQ, it will comprise 12% of your cookout budget. 


Produce

While the produce section hasn’t escaped inflation, oftentimes price fluctuation of products in this part of the grocery store are at the mercy of weather. With roughly 75% of our produce imported, American grocery store prices of these items reflect weather trends and production logistics from all over the globe. Lettuce and potatoes are selling for cheaper this year than they were last year, but tomatoes are still high. California’s lettuce crops got the water they needed while Mexico’s tomato crops have faced a dry season. If you’re planning on potato salad or all the burger fixings, the BBQ Index Report estimates those ingredients will make up 14% of your budget.


Dairy

Plan on spending $1.12 per party guest on dairy. Whether it’s cheese, ice cream, or butter for corn on the cob, fluctuating dairy prices haven’t seemed to deter shoppers. Consumers have had to ride the wave of changing prices in this sector as the industry at large works to innovate, build more production capacity and has navigated HPAI complications as they work to meet demand. Prices for sliced cheese and ice cream are lower than they were at the start of the year, but are still higher than they were last year at this time.


Grains

Americans eat over 50 million burgers every year, and there’s little doubt about hamburgers being the main course at Fourth of July cookouts across the country. But, we’re going to need buns for those burgers and this year is likely to have a few interesting consumer trends. According to the report, consumers are starting to think outside the box as they navigate inflation prices. More shoppers are looking to buy fewer products at a time, or just what they need right now.  A few years ago you might have seen grocery stores full of bulk size packages of brand name buns. This year you might notice more specialty items sold in smaller quantities. Trends show that consumers value quality and less waste over bulk buying options. Hamburger and hot dog bun purchases are reflecting this.


Consumer Culture

The BBQ Index Report also sheds light on current spending habits. In general Americans are trying to spend less money. Consumers are facing year five of rising prices and a dollar just isn’t going as far as it once did.  Fewer and fewer people are eating out and opting for more home cooked meals. But, even at the grocery store consumers are being more frugal. And, while we still have more accessibility to nutritious food options than other countries around the globe, American’s are finding the cost of food is becoming increasingly problematic for their budgets.


It's a problem for producers as well. While food prices have increased by 25%, farm income is expected to drop by 25% this year, down from 2022. Like the average consumer, farm incomes are not keeping pace with rising costs of living. Nor are they accommodating increasing operational expenses for farmers.


The BBQ Index Report looks at the same popular cookout items every year and estimates the cost of feeding ten people. The $99 price tag this year reflects a perfect storm of dynamics from weather, to politics, to supply chain logistics and viruses. It’s not likely we will see immediate relief on food prices, but we are certainly looking at Farm Bill policy that will make it less risky for farmers to meet consumer demands, and trade negotiations that consider agriculture and American pocketbooks.


Whether you max out your budget with all the fancy fixings, or opt to keep it simple this year, happy Independence Day!


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