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San Antonians see higher prices, emptier shelves at grocery stores

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San Antonians are seeing higher prices and emptier shelves at area grocery stores as the omicron variant of COVID-19 is causing supply-chain issues.

Workers across the food industry are missing work after contracting the very contagious strain of the virus, including those at grocery stores and those in food production, manufacturing, shipping and distribution, as reported by NPR on Wednesday.

The city's largest grocery chains — including Target, Walmart and San Antonio-based
H-E-B — are not immune to supply issues, said David Anderson, an economist with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service.

"They're all buying from the same place at wholesale. Those same meatpackers for instance. The same suppliers," he said.

H-E-B released the following statement to TPR.

"Given the challenging circumstances retailers are operating under, our stores might have occasional out of stocks, or customers might have trouble finding certain items that have industry wide manufacturing challenges due to labor, supply, and global material shortages like glass and aluminum. Overall, our store are in good shape with supply of most items. This takes around-the-clock work by our logistics and procurement teams.

Some items like bag lettuce are challenging right now due to a national recall from Dole, those items will come back on shelf quickly.

Inflation is occurring across all industries. H-E-B works hard to manage cost increases from our suppliers so we can keep prices low and steady for our customers. H-E-B is committed to offering our customers among the lowest prices in the nation."

The USDA on Wednesday reported overall food prices in grocery stores grew by 6.5% between December 2020 and December 2021. But meat prices specifically jumped even higher in the same comparison period — by 15%.

The USDA reports fruits, vegetables and eggs were among the products all marked higher last year.

Anderson said supply issues are not the only factor driving up prices. He said pent-up demand is another driver behind the higher prices. Consumers are looking to spend money they saved while working at home during the pandemic.

He said those savings come from not commuting to work, not shopping for new clothes or going to the dry cleaners — all work related.

"People are spending that money. They're buying things... I think a lot of folks have overlooked that in terms of its role in some of this inflation," Anderson said.

Anderson predicts food prices will remain higher as long as the pandemic is causing worker shortages in the food industry. He does believe meat prices will remain higher, too, but may come down a little in the months ahead.

One bright spot for San Antonians who love their cheese enchiladas or queso and chips: cheese was one major food product to actually finish off 2021 at a lower price. It was grated down by one-half of one percent, according to the USDA.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian