Tuesday, March 21, 2023
March 21, 2023

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Clark County shoppers see feast with fewer trimmings as food prices soar

Shoppers cut back, look for bargains to stretch Thanksgiving budgets

By , Columbian staff writer
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Jessica Moran, rings up items for Mary Frio of Hockinson at Grocery Outlet on Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard. The store has already seen an increase in foot traffic in preparation for the holidays.
Jessica Moran, rings up items for Mary Frio of Hockinson at Grocery Outlet on Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard. The store has already seen an increase in foot traffic in preparation for the holidays. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

With Thanksgiving on its way, families will be facing a new reality this year — a more expensive meal.

For most, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and spend time with family. For those in the food industry, it’s considered to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, American food holidays of the year.

But this year, families are making adjustments to their budgets.

“Historically, we see a bump in sales around the big holidays, mostly because many customers wait until the last minute to shop,” according to an email from Carlos Rodriguez Vega and Kenneth Cole, owners of the Orchards Grocery Outlet at 11808 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd.

This year, however, has been different.

“We’ve already been noticing a significant increase in foot traffic and sales because of inflationary pressures,” Rodriguez Vega and Cole wrote.

Shoppers are concerned about the rising cost of holiday meals, according to a study released last month by the Food Industry Association. The report found that 45 percent of consumers were more concerned about increased meal prices than other holiday expenses.

Folks are adjusting their shopping to adapt to the current inflationary economy, the report says.

They’re choosing store brands, eating more home-cooked meals, reducing the number of side dishes, finding more affordable substitutes, encouraging guests to bring dishes, spending less on other things and, above all, looking for deals. That’s where discount grocers like Grocery Outlet have come into play.

“More people are shopping around for good values, trying to get more for their dollars,” Rodriguez Vega and Cole told The Columbian.

Because of inflation, consumers are getting an earlier start on their meal shopping. The traditional Thanksgiving meal will cost an estimated 13.5 percent more this year than last, according to the latest annual Thanksgiving Tracker from data firm IRI.

Food will cost more in every category, but due to an avian flu outbreak, the price for turkeys will be especially high. Prices for whole birds like turkeys have risen 20 percent to 25 percent over last year, though historically retailers have absorbed the price of turkeys around the holidays.

Groceries are so much more expensive that a new study by Wells Fargo argues that certain Thanksgiving dishes may in fact cost nearly as much at home as in a restaurant.

Due to recent weather conditions, the report mentioned, the traditional Thanksgiving crops — potatoes, onions, celery, carrots and cranberries — are in short supply. Meanwhile, the prices of eggs, butter and flour are all driving higher costs for consumers. A bright spot in the news, however, is a surplus of sweet potatoes, offering a potential reprieve for budget-conscious shoppers.

The traditional sides are popular and may be emotionally challenging for many to cut from dinner tables.

Fred Meyer listed potatoes, roasted vegetables and cranberries as its Northwest customers’ favorite Thanksgiving side dishes in a recent statement sent to the press.

The company said it expects, based on last year’s sales, to sell more than 239,000 cans of cranberry sauce, more than 146,000 bags of fresh cranberries, more than 2.5 million pounds of potatoes and more than 700,000 pounds of sweet potatoes this season.

Grocers like Fred Meyer and Grocery Outlet spend months preparing for the holiday, which is a notoriously busy time for the industry.

Since it opened, the Orchards Grocery Outlet has become popular with those in search of gluten-free, organic, vegan, paleo, plant-based and other specialty items. But at the moment, the store is stocking up on the traditional fare like pies and sides — and offering specials on turkeys and sparkling cider.

“We’re definitely gearing up for the holidays and for the traditional feasting that takes place as families come together,” said Rodriguez Vega and Cole.

“At Thanksgiving, we see so many customers seeking out ingredients to make meals their families have shared for generations,” said Jeffery Temple, director of corporate affairs at Fred Meyer, in the company’s recent statement. “It’s so rewarding to be part of their dinner tables and play an important role in reliving favorite memories and making new ones.”