Buying bacon or ham? Pork prices rising as labor shortage continues

Consumer Watch

(WGHP) — Pork prices have risen as the US pork processing industry continues to face labor shortage problems due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Processing plants have to put in more labor to produce deboned pork products than bone-in pork products, which means the prices for deboned are higher.

When labor shortages are severe like they were in the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 infections of processing plant employees caused some plants to shut down production temporarily, plant managers often shift labor efforts away from deboning.

As labor efforts are reduced, the price of deboned pork steadily goes up. Meanwhile, the price of bone-in pork products goes down thanks to the expanding supply.

This results in wider price spreads between boneless and bone-in products.

While the price spread lowered through early May 2021 as hog numbers declined in a normal seasonal pattern, it did not return to pre-COVID levels.

In mid-to-late August, the price spread started to vary and spiked several times. The USDA says this suggests COVID-19 is continuing to impact labor availability and customers are continuing to see turbulence in the price spread.

The prices of bacon sliced per pound and all ham, not canned or sliced, have risen steadily from Sept. 2019 to Sept. 2020.

The average price of one pound of bacon in Sept. 2019 was about $5.57 and rose to about $7.72 in Sept. 2021, according to the USDA.

Likewise, the average price of one pound of ham, not canned or sliced, in Sept. 2019 was about $3.34 and rose to about $3.83 in Sept. 2021.

The average price of pork chops by the pound has also increased from about $3.34 on Sept. 2019 to about $4.05 on Sept. 2021. The price was highest during a spike in June 2020 when it reached about $4.19.

Price spread for pork products increases as processing plant labor shortages continue (credit: USDA)
Price spread for pork products increases as processing plant labor shortages continue (credit: USDA)

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