Cincinnati News 12 | Skyrocketing beef prices spark signs at Kroger, federal investigations

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by James Pilcher

Source: Cincinnati Local 12 News

Date Published: June 17, 2020

LATONIA, Ky. (WKRC) – Bard’s Burgers and Chili is known for its burgers fresh off the griddle, and customers were glad to see them reopen to diners in May. But they were also greeted by higher prices on the menu, thanks in part to rising beef prices.

“I mean, they’ve just literally skyrocketed,” said Bard’s owner Jordan Stephens. “I mean, almost triple we were — about triple for a little bit…It used to be $7-something for a burger and fries, which is a pretty killer price for our standard burger and fries, and now we’re at $10 plus tax.”

Bard’s isn’t alone. Prices for ground beef at Kroger and elsewhere range above $6 to $7 a pound, formerly what shoppers might pay for a good steak.

Some local Kroger stores have put up signs telling shoppers the high prices are due to supply problems from meat processors. Kroger officials did not respond to several interview requests.

Many meat processors either shut down or cut output because of production issues when the coronavirus hit.

President Donald Trump used the War Powers Act to force the companies back into full production, most of which is done by one of four companies, including industry giants Tyson and JBS. Tyson officials declined to comment and the other three companies did not respond to Local 12 requests for comment.

In May, the state attorney generals from 11 states launched an investigation into possible collusion by those companies. Now, the situation has sparked a separate anti-trust investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and a separate probe by the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Those investigations were first reported last week by both Politico and the Wall Street Journal.

One Nebraska rancher and advocate says that ranchers get less than 30% of what a customer pays for beef compared to more than 60% in the ’70s.

“As a result of all this consolidation and control of the market, the profit of the product has just been squeezed away from the people producing that product,” said Ben Gotschall, interim director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, who also operates a dairy farm and cattle ranch in Nebraska.

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