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BARBOURSVILLE — Deborah Smallridge says she noticed her grocery shopping receipts have gotten shorter, but the total cost has gone up.

“It’s not just at the grocery store,” Smallridge, of Ona, said while shopping at Tower FoodFair in Barboursville. “Prices are going up everywhere, at all the stores, the gas station and just about any place you go.”

Smallridge, 35, is married with two children and one on the way. She says she is spending double the amount for the same amount of groceries, goods and services than she did last year and the price increases have caused her to rethink the way she shops, as well as her shopping habits.

“Before I could just come to the grocery store and not worry about sales and coupons and all that stuff,” she said. “But now I am a big budget shopper. I try to get what’s cheapest. I am looking at the grocery ads in the newspaper and clipping coupons and doing anything I can to save money.”

Smallridge isn’t the only one noticing that prices are going up.

Philip Sims, 49, of Barboursville says he just doesn’t eat beef anymore.

“Have you seen the prices for a good steak?” he asked. “They are through the roof. I guess I will stick to frozen foods.”

According to Deloitte’s “Fresh vs. Frozen: The Future of Fresh in a Changing Competitive Landscape” report released in October, frozen food spending has risen dramatically during the pandemic because shoppers, like Sims, believe it is more cost-effective.

The study reports that frozen food sales went up 21% in 2020, and the trend is continuing into the end of this year.

“Fresh food can be significantly more expensive at baseline than its frozen equivalent,” the study states. It reported that nearly 6 in 10 customers believe frozen food prices are more stable than fresh produce.

Even foods such as milk and eggs, which are up 10% from the previous year, are not immune to increases in prices, according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. While a gallon of milk is averaging around $3 a gallon in Huntington, in some cities, such as Kansas City and Philadelphia, customers are paying upwards of $5.

Tim Forth, owner of Tower FoodFair in Barboursville, called it a “perfect storm” of pandemic-related issues that grocers and retailers continue to face. He said retailers across the country have reported item shortages, worker shortages and shipping delays, all of which impact the prices of the food on grocery shelves.

“This is pandemic-related, and there is no question about that,” Forth said. “We have labor issues and people are not working for various reasons. Then we are all feeling the effects of supply chain issues. We may have trouble getting a particular product in one day, then we will get that in, and then next week it’s something different. Every day is an adventure, to be honest with you.”

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Forth says with the economy trying to come away from a lockdown and a pandemic that will not go away, the balance between supply and demand is not equal.

“We currently have this huge demand, and when you have supply chain issues with labor, transportation, plants not producing due to the pandemic and other unforeseen factors it creates this perfect storm for negative impacts on prices for almost everything,” he said. “Even the costs of items used for packaging meats has gone up, which means the prices go up.”

Forth says most customers comment on the increase in beef prices.

“There is plenty of beef, but we can’t get it from the processing plants,” Forth said. “Prior to the pandemic, those folks worked shoulder to shoulder. COVID protocols call for them to spread out, and you have less people on that line and it slows it down, so we can’t get enough processed because of less people doing it. That’s in addition to less people even wanting to work at these plants.”

Forth says he believes food prices are up 3% to 4% this year.

“We are doing everything we can here to keep the prices down,” he said.

Forth says his local warehouse in Huntington that allows him to try to “get ahead of the curve” in order to keep food on the shelves and costs as low as possible. He said when the pandemic first started his 17 FoodFair stores in the Tri-State region were some of the few grocery stores that had fully stocked shelves.

“It’s because we have a local distribution center here in town. It gives us a big advantage over these big guys that do not have a distribution center in West Virginia,” he said. “I can stock up at our local warehouse and have thing to the stores faster. Our suppliers have been great, plus, I like to think that my team just works a little harder. When the others run of out of stock on items, whether it is turkeys or whatever it is, this is where they come and we want to be ready for them.”

Forth has also added home delivery to stay competitive.

“This is a pilot program and in its infancy and we are trying to work the kinks out of it right now, but if you go to our website, foodfairmarkets.com, pick Tower FoodFair as your home store, then you can come here and pick it up or can choose to have it delivered to your home,” he said. “Hopefully that can save some folks some gas money and help their budgets a little bit.”

Whether it’s grocery prices or the cost of gasoline, most economists have said inflation is what is making it harder for folks to stay on budget, and almost everything in every store costs more this month than it did last month.

In September, inflation rose 5.4%, meaning your groceries cost more in September 2021, than they did the same time last year. That’s the highest rate increase in more than a decade.

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