DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – U.S. consumer trends show prices for many grocery items are going up as stores anticipate possible shortages. But Ohio grocers say they’re holding off on price increases for as long as they can.
Most small and medium-sized grocery stores are operating on razor thin profit margins, as low as 1% or 2%. So seemingly minor price fluctuations can have a major impact, and they try to minimize the sticker shock whenever possible.
“It’s an individual decision, it’s not one that’s taken lightly. They do take a long time to decide what they’re going to do,” said Kristin Mullins, president and CEO of the Ohio Grocers Association.
Mullins said the supply chain is in good shape right now, but there are still some challenges caused by the pandemic. As a result, some smaller grocers have no choice but to raise prices, hoping customers remain loyal. The latest consumer price index for food shows a 2.2% increase over the past year.
“We know our customer base. We know what our market can take. They’re going to try to absorb those costs just as long as they possibly can,” said Mullins.
She said the grocery industry is slower to raise prices than some other industries and that price fluctuations are not new. However, the costs of running a grocery store keep rising. “I think the goal would definitely be gradually and it will be selective.”
She said you may not notice the price go up for milk or bread or eggs, but center-store items like non-perishables may be where you see increases. “There’s never an across-the-board, ‘we’re raising everything 10% in our store,’ that just doesn’t happen.”
A vice president at Dorothy Lane Market said he does not foresee a need to stockpile or panic buy, even if some prices increase slightly.
WATCH a Dorothy Lane Market expert explains how the industry weighs price increases:
“Pricing is really over the last six months, under a lot of pressure,” said Jack Gridley, vice president of meat & seafood at DLM.
Many shoppers are noticing this trend. NBC News has been tracking the cost of items like bread, eggs, chicken and ground beef, which are all up month-to-month.
Gridley said the factors include rising grain and fuel prices, labor shortages at plants and even cyber-attacks on producers.
He said price fluctuations in the grocery industry are cyclical and this is no different, but it may be amplified by the suddenness of reopening after the pandemic. “There’s a lot of the pipeline that was empty that had to be filled rather quickly. But it’s a constant challenge, something we face all the time.”
Gridley said the decision to raise prices is not made quickly and is based on long term trends. If they don’t think a temporary trend will last, they sometimes choose not to raise prices. “If we have to thin back our already-thin margins for a while to keep prices intact, we’ll go ahead and do that.”
Gas price increases are a good indicator for the grocery industry and help soften the blow for shoppers. “Don’t panic. You’re going to see some ups and downs, but overall, I think it will all be fine. There will be plenty of food to eat.”