Supply chain issues prompt increases in food prices | News, Sports, Jobs

Supply chain issues prompt increases in food prices | News, Sports, Jobs

The prices we pay for some of our food products in 2022 would have been hard to imagine in the past.

On my most recent trip to the grocery store I spent a little extra on several items. It wasn’t that much, though, when you consider the overall price trend.

I spent for eight small cheesecake slices (four different flavors) because they were reasonably priced for a dessert. I also chose some pickled herring since it was $2 off.

I paid the regular price for a can of mixed nuts. Once in a while I’ll do that because one of my grandfathers especially like mixed nuts and would share them with us. It brings back good memories.

We pay almost as much for some of the basics, since the most popular soups and sauces now cost about $4 each. It’s even true for spaghetti sauce. Boxes of cereal normally exceed $5.

It seems like the biggest increases have happened in product categories where a small number of large companies practically control the market. Major players such as Campbells, Progresso, Prego, Kraft and Kellogg’s have hiked the price everyone has to pay if they want products that most people would consider simple everyday items.

The question becomes why. Exactly why is it always necessary to transport farm commodities long distances for food processing and then send finished products long distances back to rural areas for high prices in the grocery store.

It’s definitely not the fault of our local grocers. They have to charge in accordance with what they have to spend to put popular products on the shelf.

Instead it’s a reflection of the hub and spoke theory which has driven manufacturing for almost a century. It involves a small number of hubs. Everyone else is a spoke.

The Marshall area in many ways has been helped by long supply chains in the food industry. Marvin Schwan specialized in using the open road to get his products out to customers in distant locations.

His strategy worked in the 20th century, a time of cheap fuel prices and expansions with products such as premium ice cream, frozen pizza, and sandwiches that could be heated in the microwave.

The profit margin is 2022 is making it harder to have both long supply chains and favorable prices. It might be time to support effors to shorten the chains, to make local and regional brands in larger quantities.

Beverage plants often used to have local brands. I have a pop bottle collection that started with bottles found in the Redwood River. It includes some little known brands from the past that were made on a limited regional scale.

That kind of thing still happens with food products. We have a high school student in Marshall who runs a successful home-based baking business. Students from an area high school, Westbrook Walnut Grove, created their own brand of barbecue sauce.

It’s not an easy process. It takes hard work and careful business planning. It’s not something for which a person can just wake up one morning and decide to attempt.

A local food or beverage enterprise is still possible under the right conditions. There’s a lot of potential to develop strong customer loyalty through quality products, personalized customer service and investments in local communities.

Much of the long term potential could depend on consumer choice. People seem to want local food alternatives, where they know exactly where and how their food was produced.

Marshall’s Farmer’s Market is known for drawing sizable crowds in the summer. There are plenty of vendors and lots of customers who want to buy from them. Hopefully we’ll continue to have entrepreneurs who want to invest the time and effort to regularly offer their products.

Whenever someone does that it generates economic activity that stays local. It also leads to good quality products at prices that are comparable to major brands.

In a small way, it might even lead to the kind of competition that saves everyone a few cents when we shop the grocery aisles.

— Jim Muchlinski is longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent

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