COLUMBIA — Sugar, flour and condensed milk are some of the items piled high into Ray and Kathy Aery’s two shopping carts. When they drive to Columbia from Lake of the Ozarks every two months for Ray’s doctor appointment, the Aerys stock up on food at Aldi on Business Loop 70 East because many prices are cheaper.
With eight children and 25 grandchildren, Kathy Aery saves money for meals whenever she can. She clips coupons and only buys items on sale. When a store has a really good sale, she calls ahead of time and orders extra to stock up. She buys large packs of meat to can.
“My kids live next door,” she said. “I am a built-in babysitter, so doing all of this is how I managed to feed so many children growing up.”
Aery said she spends at least $100 dollars more per month on groceries these days than six months ago.
While most people don’t go to this extreme, the increase in food prices has led Columbia residents to change consumption habits. It has also forced many Columbia restaurants to make tough decisions about prices.
The Missouri Farm Bureau market basket analysis estimates that prices on certain food products in Missouri have increased 36 percent since 2005. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices are expected to increase 5 percent this year, and the American Farm Bureau calculates that 44 percent of that 5 percent increase can be blamed on petroleum-based energy costs.
Chris Atchison, general manager at Moser’s Discount Foods, said he has seen more shoppers buying generic brands and using coupons. A couple of weeks ago, when a four-pound bag of sugar was on sale for 99 cents, Atchison estimates the store sold around 1,000 bags.
Deanne Young, 40, goes to the store that advertises the most sales to cook for her niece and nephew before and after school. She buys family packs of everything and freezes extra food. Young and her mother “double up” to make one trip to the store. They used to eat out, but not anymore.
“Now it’s whatever you can mix leftovers with to make for the next meal,” she said. “It starts as ground beef for tacos, then for spaghetti and then whatever I make after that.”
She estimated that she spends $20 more a week now than six months ago.
While some senior citizens say the price increase hasn’t affected them, others are changing consumption habits.
“My fixed income hasn’t gone up and prices have,” said Jane Blakemore, who declined to give her age.
She said she could save more money by eating meals such as macaroni and cheese, but she doesn’t want to change her diet. As she gets older she wants to eat healthy. Blakemore says she spends, on average, $30 more a week than she did late last year.
With six-month old son Jase in her shopping cart, Renee Wimberly, 40, who just moved to Columbia from California, said some items are more expensive in Missouri than on the West Coast, such as French vanilla coffee creamer.
On her trips to the grocery store every couple of days, she looks for generic brands on sale and eats a lot of frozen and canned food.
Others are no longer going out for lunch during the workday. Tori Renshaw’s husband, Robert, has started taking his meal to work.
“We are on a really strict budget, and when food costs go up, you have to budget accordingly and save money for family activities,” Tori Renshaw said.
She shops at Wal-Mart and buys in bulk from Sam’s Club. Her family is now eating more chicken and ground beef than costlier meats like steak. They are eating less fresh produce and more canned vegetables and fruit. Renshaw estimated spending around $50 more a week than six months ago.
Restaurants weigh options
Individual consumers are not the only ones affected. According a National Restaurant Association analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, between February 2006 and February 2008 egg prices increased 186.9 percent; flour, 107.9 percent; fat and oil, 63.1 percent; milled rice, 46.8 percent; fresh fruit and melons, 42.1 percent; cheese, 30.4 percent; milk, 25.3 percent; and fresh vegetables, 15.9 percent.
Many restaurants in Columbia are wrestling with raising menu prices enough to make a profit without driving away customers. Some are discussing raising prices within a couple of weeks or later in the summer, and some have already.
Buckingham’s Smokehouse BBQ raised prices $1 within six months on in-house and to-go meals because of food costs. Unlike some less fortunate restaurants, manager Jason Reed said that business is booming.
Grand Cru is holding off on increasing prices for as long as possible, said manager Dan Paulsell.
“We’re trying not to increase prices. Everybody’s pushing, but we’re trying not to affect our customers, especially since we are already considered expensive,” he said.
Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant owner Kenneth Applegate said his restaurant couldn’t absorb the inflation in food costs, and has had to increase prices for the first time in two years. Menu prices increased “one dollar here, 50 cents there, two dollars there,” he said. Catering charges increased five dollars to account for gas costs.
“We had to start looking at things, deciding what to do,” he said. “It’s a matter of facts.”
Most restaurant managers interviewed said they are using the same ingredients as always because they don’t want to compromise the quality of meals.
At W.G. Grinders, which increased prices a year ago, owner Brandon Sullivan noted that customers are spending less. They’re buying cheaper sandwiches, choices with more meat and six-inch instead of ten-inch sandwiches. He also said that if gas prices go up a dime, sales go down “‘cause people start freaking out.”
Bread Basket Cafe raised prices 7 percent in May. Owner David Maxwell said that for the most part, people have been understanding. To reduce waste, cooks prepare less food at a time.
Smokin’ Chicks BBQ Restaurant is among restaurants discussing price increases, according to its managers.
Shakespeare’s Pizza’s “director of marketing and some other stuff” Kurt Drennen Mirtsching is being creative in tackling the problem. The company is launching new marketing to encourage “carpool” pizza ordering to save gas by offering cheap deals and free delivery on large orders. Shakespeare’s recently purchased more energy-efficient cars for deliveries.
Prices on toppings at Shakespeare’s increased 25 cents a year ago and may increase again at the beginning of MU’s fall semester to stay in line with the marketplace.