It was "sticker shock" at the supermarket this week, where bacon prices have continued to go through the roof. Look at that: $6.69 a pound for Oscar Mayer bacon at Stop & Shop, where even the generic no-name crap bacon (the "Guaranteed Value" brand") is now $2.99 a pound - a 50% increase from last year.
I first noticed bacon prices rising in August, but a summertime price bump isn't unusual. August is when everyone's backyard tomatoes are in their full glory, and bacon prices often tick up a bit then as loads of people buy it to make the archetypal summer sandwich, the BLT. This year, however, summer prices didn't drift back down.
According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, bacon prices have been climbing for seven straight months as of October (the last month for which there is data.) As of right now, bacon prices are up an average of 33% over last year at this time.
There's a combination of factors at work here. Remember the H1N1 Swine Flu scare last year? That caused an overall reduction in hog herds. Higher feed prices and overall recessionary conditions also helped make raising hogs a money-losing proposition for a lot of farmers. And because pork bellies (the pigmeat from which we get bacon) is a traded commodity, market pressure from speculators has helped keep bacon prices higher than other pork cuts.
In this August article in the Birmingham [AL] News, Business Editor Stan Diel said, "The good news for those who like bacon with their eggs in the morning is that it doesn't take nearly as long for farmers to raise new hogs, increasing supply, as it does to raise cattle. And with hogs once again profitable, farmers are raising more of them." Unfortunately, since then bacon prices have still risen about 7% a month, and my own price surveys in the supermarkets haven't shown any downward trend.
In recent weeks, many of the supermarkets around me have started to run sales on bacon, which is taking some of the sting away. But when you're starting at a regular price getting close to seven bucks a pound, even the sale prices are expensive compared to last year.