Pork prices still soaring

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The price of hogs has dropped almost 25 per cent over the past year, but you’d never know it by the prices some retailers are still charging for things such as bacon and pork chops.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/05/2015 (2753 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The price of hogs has dropped almost 25 per cent over the past year, but you’d never know it by the prices some retailers are still charging for things such as bacon and pork chops.

The latest consumer price index data released Friday by Statistics Canada shows fresh and frozen pork still cost 9.6 per cent more in Manitoba last month than in April 2014. The only good news was the year-over-year spread was down from 18.7 per cent in March.

That’s despite the fact local hog farmers are getting 24 per cent less for their pigs now than they were this time last year— about $180 versus $237, according to Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Cantor's Meat owner, Ed Cantor with a tray of pork products at his busy meat counter at store on Logan Ave.

One local independent grocer — Ed Cantor, of Cantor’s Groceries — said pork processors did lower their prices about five or six months ago because of a glut of pork on the North American market.

“They had so much pork they didn’t know what to do with it all,” he said, and that enabled him to lower his prices by an average of 50 to 80 cents per pound. But he claimed most of the large supermarket chains didn’t follow suit.

A scan of some of this week’s supermarket flyers confirmed retail prices for some pork products have remained stubbornly high, although they can vary considerably from one supermarket chain to another.

For example, Real Canadian Superstore was still advertising centre cut pork chops for $5.98 per pound and a pork loin centre cut roast for $6.48 per pound. And Canada Safeway was advertising a 375-gram package of Maple Leaf Bacon for $5.99, while Sobeys was offering a 500-gram package of Fletcher’s bacon for $7.99, which it said was a savings of up to $1.20 from the regular price.

Cantor said he also had to raise his pork prices by an average of 10 cents a pound last week because the processors he deals with raised their prices after holding the line for the last five or six months.

“They didn’t say why (they were raising them),” he said, adding he assumes it’s because with the arrival of summer, demand for pork is picking up.

“Or maybe it’s because beef prices are staying high. They’re not coming down at all because of the ongoing shortage of beef cattle in North America,” he added.

Spokesmen for Canada’s largest pork processor — Maple Leaf Foods — and three of the country’s large supermarket chains — Sobeys, Loblaws, and Canada Safeway — could not be reached for comment.

However, Kevin Grier, an independent food analyst from Guelph, offered several theories for why some retailers have been slow to drop their prices after last year’s rapid run-up in both hog and processed pork prices.

For starters, many of them were losing their shirts through the first nine months of 2014, he said. That’s because they couldn’t raise their prices fast enough to keep pace with the price increases their suppliers were imposing, he explained, for fear that consumers would rebel and stop buying pork.

“Last year at this time, Manitoba retailers were paying through the nose for pork. Whatever the packer asked for, the packer got,” he said. “There was no negotiation. Now they (retailers) have finally got pork prices up to where they would have liked them to have been last year,” he added. “So that’s the situation. Last year they were losing money, and this year they’re making money.”

Grier said retailers also don’t like to drop their prices until they know for sure hog prices aren’t going to rebound. And besides, with beef prices still at record highs — they were 20 per cent higher in Manitoba last month than in April 2014 — consumers seem to have become conditioned to paying more for meat, Grier added.

“Consumers are buying pork anyway… so there is no incentive for retailers to lower their regular prices.

“Instead, what they’re doing is offering more weekly specials as a way of getting more customers into their stores,” he said.

“Consumers have been seeing this year, more than ever, some solid pork features on the front page of the (advertising) flyers,” he said, adding he wouldn’t be surprised if they even start offering weekly specials on bacon.

“There’s nothing like bacon to get people into the store.”

But while he expects the trend toward more generous weekly specials to continue, Grier said consumers shouldn’t expect any big change in regular prices.

“He (the retailer) will play around a lot on the featured prices, but he’s not going to lower the regular prices,” he added.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

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