News

Rising BLT costs hard to swallow

Rising BLT costs hard to swallow

BLT:The cost to produce a BLT, America's favorite summer sandwich, hit a record high of $1.65 in May and will continue to take a bigger bite out of wallets in the coming months, given a pig virus that has ramped up bacon prices and drought-stricken salad crops in California. Photo: clipart.com

By Theopolis Waters

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The cost to produce a BLT, America’s favorite summer sandwich, hit a record high of $1.65 in May and will continue to take a bigger bite out of wallets in the coming months, given a pig virus that has ramped up bacon prices and drought-stricken salad crops in California.

But price increases may be limited as farmers breed bigger pigs and processors tap stocks built up in expectation of tight supplies as the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) killed millions of piglets in the past year.

PEDv deaths helped push bacon to a record $6.05 per pound in May when the price to make bacon, lettuce and tomato (BLT) sandwiches also peaked.

Bunny Leyva, owner of Bunny’s Cafe in Stockton, California, stocked up by doubling her order of pre-cooked bacon as prices recently jumped to $14.49 per pack from $12.99 within a two-week period.

“I know it’s going to start climbing, so I buy two of whatever I usually get,” she said.

However, prices for pork bellies, used to make bacon, are now down 15 percent from an April peak of $2.06 per pound, as pigs are coming to market heavier to counter lower numbers. Pork output has slipped under 1 percent this year despite a 4.4 percent drop in pigs killed.

“They (bellies) are going to be as high as last year, but not by a lot because of the stocks we carried into the spring,” said Steve Meyer, president of Iowa-based Paragon Economics.

LETTUCES, TOMATOES SPARED?

There are no major signs yet that prices of lettuce and tomatoes have been affected by drought in California, which grows 90 percent of domestic output, said Annemarie Kuhns, an agricultural economist at the USDA.

Lettuce prices edged up 1.1 percent in May from a year ago, according to the USDA, but consumers actually paid slightly less for tomatoes. Farmers are also likely to prioritize water for the top quality tomatoes used in BLTs – about 10 percent of the state’s output.

“Fresh market tomatoes are a high-value crop per unit of water. When water is really valuable, like in a drought, farmers try to move it to the crop where you get the biggest revenue per drop,” said Daniel Sumner, economist and director of the University of California Agriculture Issues Center.

But Timothy Richards, an Arizona State University business school professor, warns prices could still rise. He studied California’s drought impact on fruit and vegetable prices using retail scanner data and projected as much as a 62 cents price jump for lettuce to near $2.44 a head, with tomatoes possibly up as much 45 cents to around $2.84 a pound.

Leyva has avoided raising prices so far by cutting the number of bacon strips in her 40-seat restaurant’s $5 BLT from five to four.

“If prices go up much higher than they have, I’ll probably add another quarter to it. I’m not trying to get rich, I’m just trying to keep the business open,” she said.

(Reporting by Theopolis Waters, editing by G Crosse)

Recent Headlines

in Music

Taylor Swift named among world’s greatest leaders in new Fortune poll

Singer Taylor Swift attends the SNL 40th Anniversary Special at Rockefeller Plaza on Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, in New York.

Taylor Swift ranks two spots behind Pope Francis in a new Fortune.com poll of the World's Greatest Leaders.

in Entertainment

‘Downton Abbey’ to end after season six

This photo released by PBS and Carnival Film and Television Limited shows, from left, Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore, and Sophie McShera as Daisy, in a scene from season four of the Masterpiece TV series, "Downton Abbey." As it returns for its much-awaited fourth season, it remains a series about elegance, tradition and gentility, and the pressures of preserving them. The show premieres Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 9 pm ET on PBS.

Producers confirm that the next season of "Downton Abbey" will be the last.

in Music

Luke Bryan joins the Chicago White Sox

Luke Bryan poses in the press room with the award for entertainer of the year at the 48th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.

Luke Bryan joined the Chicago White Sox for spring training in Arizona.

in Music

Jana Kramer defends home state after Madonna criticism

The Academy of Country Music hosts a free all star concert for fans as country music artist Jana Kramer performs at the ACM Fremont Street Experience on Saturday, March 31, 2012, in Las Vegas.

Jana Kramer steps up to defend Michigan after Madonna slammed their home state in interviews.

in Entertainment

‘Empire’ co-stars spark romance rumors

gracegealey

Are Trai Byers and Grace Gealey more than just coworkers?