Consumers are experiencing “sticker shock” at the retail meat case as prices shoot up, Sherry Frey of the Perishables Group told the NCC-U.S. Poultry & Egg Association Food Media Seminar in Charleston, South Carolina, this week.  Average retail prices of meat and poultry items increased 8.8 percent in January compared to the same month in 2010, she said.

Recession-battered consumers also dialed back the quantities purchased across all major categories in the meat case even as dollar amounts rose, she said, with chicken taking the smallest volume hit.  Beef purchases dropped 3.6 percent in volume while increasing 1.3 percent in dollars; chicken slipped 1.5 percent in volume while eking out a 0.3 percent gain in value; pork had the biggest decline in volume at 7.2 percent while scoring a 1.1 percent increase in dollars; and turkey saw a 2.5 percent dip in volume with a near-mirror image of 2.7 percent increase in value.

Beef holds the largest dollar share of fresh meat purchases in retail grocery with 53.1 percent of the total, she said.  Chicken in second place with 24.9 percent, followed by pork at 14.7 percent and turkey with 5.6 percent, she said.  Chicken breasts account for 55 percent of the dollar volume of chicken sales, she added.

About 65 percent of the increase in food prices is due to general inflation and about 35 percent to soaring commodity prices, said Dr. Chris Hurt of Purdue University at the same conference.  While crude oil is up 44 percent since January 2010, it is still far below its 2008 peak, while corn is trading at all-time highs, and wheat and soybeans have increased sharply, he said.

Hurt predicted that pork prices will go up as much as 6 to 7 percent this year, beef and veal 4.5 to 5.5 percent, and poultry 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

The presentations of Ms. Frey and Dr. Hurt are posted to the Food Media Seminar Web site at