Tag Archives: Walmart

Food prices down? Fine, for now; But they’re market-driven, and winter’s coming

meal kits-1

Supermarkets across the U.S. continue reacting to deflationary market pressures by lowering prices on both commodities and packaged goods. Sometimes one chain or another – think of Walmart – doesn’t do reductions and price fluctuations as smoothly as they could, though.

Walmart, like a lot of major food retailers – it is, after all, America’s largest supermarket company – has been promoting store-wide ‘permanent’ roll-backs in prices for most or all of 2016. What they haven’t been talking about, with good reason, is the fact that the kinds and levels of price changes they institute will hardly negatively affect the company’s bottom line.

Example: Way earlier this year, a 20-oz. (567 g) loaf of their Great Value white bread could be had for $.88. Then, a couple of months later, the price was quietly upped to $.99. It’s since been upped again, to a bit more than one dollar.

(At one point in the late spring, the company seemed to have actually killed that bread brand, as shelves were devoid of it for a couple of weeks or more where I shop, in Central Virginia. But that could have been just another far-too-typical out-of-stock situation – a problem Walmart seemed to be struggling with a lot until recently, when they’ve actually brought back a few brands first appearing to be out-of-stock then totally disappearing.)

Example II: Generic large egg prices fell to an amazing $.88 a dozen in the early summer – in part due to an oversupply situation in the industry. That price held, at ‘my’ Walmart, for close to a month. Then, in an amazingly stupid more, the price was pushed up to $.99 behind promotional signs touting a ‘new low price’! Yep, they still were cheaper than the dollar-plus per dozen price at Food Lion, the only other chain retailer readily available to me. But how dumb do you think your customers are when you tout a higher price as a new ‘low’ one?

(Meanwhile, as consumer demand for ‘cage free’ eggs and chicken has grown, prices at that end of the hen fruit market have moved, and stayed, higher. But As this blog reported on Oct. 21, ‘Cage Free is Far From Trouble Free’, and this is an issue the chicken and egg industry is going to have to deal with.)

Rochester NY-based Wegmans announced a few days ago that it is cutting a bunch of prices across the store, with produce being among the most-positively-affected sections. Other supermarketers across the country have done the same or similar in recent months.

But consumers need to keep one thing in mind: In the 1980’s, a supermarket company named Grand Union – a venerable company with a colorful past – it was probably the first, and one of the few, supermarket operators to employ customer helpers who traversed a then-considered-huge 100,000 sq ft store in central New York state on roller skates – made a series of serious mistakes. One of them, the first or second in a sad series, was to declare that a round of price reductions it was introducing were ‘forever’. If you’re a believer, you may argue that God knows ‘forever’; whether you’re a believer or not, the smallest bit of common sense dictates that no supermarket company can afford to make promises like that.

Long story shortened: A year or so after one of its executives suffered what clearly appeared to be a ‘mob hit’ – his body was never found – this New Jersey-based company went bankrupt.

The ‘forever’ issue was only a symptom, as it turned out: The real cause of the company’s come-down/put-down was a succession of management companies’ desire to fatten their purses at the expense of the golden swan – the layer of the golden eggs.

As a shopper, you can count one thing, and only one thing, where supermarket prices are concerned: They are, and will continue to be, market-driven, both up and down.

While some of your best buys will always be found in your favorite store’s weekly flyer, the very best ones will always be found in your meat department, where items too close to a sell-buy date are marked down – sometimes way down.

But a word of caution: If you seek out that kind of savings, pay close attention to the ‘use or freeze by’ dates. While they are generally generous, in terms of absolute safety, don’t push your luck: Use, or freeze. (Or cook and freeze; The benefit is the roughly the same.)

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Cage-Free Is Far From Trouble-Free, Video Shows

cage-free

Still from video released today by Direct Action Everywhere

As consumer pressure has caused an increasing number of food sellers to buy, or make long-term commitments to buy, eggs from chickens not raised in cages, egg-producing farmers have turned to a system known as aviary systems. Such systems, in which barn-housed hens are crowded together outside of cages, the birds’ experience is better, but only slightly better, than their traumatic life in cages, The New York Times reported today (Oct. 21).

Their article initially focused on what investigators from Direct Action Everywhere discovered when they snuck into a barn owned by Pleasant Valley Farms, an egg producer in Farmington, Calif., and a contract egg supplier to Costco. The 783-word article went on to note how the Humane Society of the United States views aviary systems – as an alternative to battery, or caged, ones – and on the findings of researchers in Holland who ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10. They gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages received a 0 ranking.

A video released Thursday by Direct Action Everywhere, an all-volunteer animal advocacy group,  shows dead birds on the floor and injured hens pecked by other chickens. One bird had a piece of flesh hanging off its beak.

The video focuses on a hen that Direct Action rescued and named Ella. When the organization found her in the cage-free barn, she was struggling to pull herself up and had lost most of her feathers. Her back was covered in feces.

chicken-pecked

“There were birds rotting on the floor, and there was one dead bird that seemed to have lost her head,” said Wayne Hsiung, who helped make the video for the group, which is better known as DxE. “There were birds attacking birds, and the smell was horrible.”

The egg industry has long warned that hens living cage-free in aviary systems will experience higher mortality rates and more disease. Research by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, which is financed by egg producers and food companies, found “substantially worse” levels of aggression and cannibalism in cage-free systems, also known as aviary systems, compared with caged systems. It has also found more damage to the birds’ sternums.

“Consumers have an idyllic vision of what cage-free farming looks like,” Mr. Hsiung said. “They need to be shown the truth, which is that cage-free is far from humane.”

Yet, partly in response to graphic videos and reports about the conditions of caged chickens, consumers pressured companies from McDonald’s to Walmart and Costco to turn to cage-free eggs. Those companies have rushed to promise buying only cage-free eggs in the years to come, which has pushed egg producers to invest tens of millions of dollars in aviary systems. Many animal rights activists have applauded those commitments.

[An aside: At the Walmart nearest my home, large eggs have recently sold for as little as 89¢ (eighty-nine cents) per dozen.]

Costco said in a statement that the video appeared to involve just one barn out of the many that it uses to supply the eggs sold under its Kirkland brand.

“We have reinspected the barn and other operations of this supplier, and based on these inspections and prior audits, we are comfortable with the animal welfare aspects of the operation,” the company said.

Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, said that cage-free hen housing was without a doubt better than battery cages, though not without problems.

He noted that an assessment by researchers in the Netherlands that ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10 gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages were 0. “With companies like Costco,” he said, “it’s better to welcome them for taking the first steps rather than punish them for not taking the last step.”