Why the House of Representatives will probe what’s really driving food price hikes


I have a scoop-ette this morning. The news – that the House of Representatives will hold hearings next Wednesday on food industry consolidation leading to higher food prices – anchors a broader feature. Antitrust enforcement has been weak for decades, and the food industry is a prime example.

Mergers and acquisitions have swept through the food industry in recent years, making fewer and fewer players responsible for feeding a growing country and raising concerns about the fairness of price increases. The biggest consolidation has been in beef, where four companies now control 85% of the US market. Four pork and chicken companies supply 70% and 54% of their respective markets, while the number of supermarket chains has shrunk by almost a third over the past three decades, with four companies accounting for more than two-thirds of sales .

I hope you are resting and reflecting on this upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. The beginning of the year already looks like a sprint. I’ll leave you with an unfortunate fact that I learned while reporting the story, which may help inform your grocery shopping. Even if the item is on sale, it is probably more expensive than a year ago: according to NielsenIQ, the price of sale products has increased by 7% in 52 weeks and by 9% in the last 4 weeks. Those free one-time purchase prices that grocers have made customers so accustomed to are just not there anymore. This is another way the consolidation of the grocery industry has impacted consumers: vendors and retailers don’t need to drive traffic to the store because there’s so much demand. Instead, try ordering from a local food center or visit a farmer’s market over the long weekend.

— Chloé Sorvino, editor

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What’s up

US probes link between Big Beef and inflation. Unprecedented consolidation in the US food industry could be a cause of rising prices and empty grocery shelves. The White House, backed by independent economic analysts, has claimed there is a link between inflation and fewer food suppliers. The House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee, chaired by Democrat David Cicilline of Rhode Island, is expected to address the matter at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Why are Denver Kroger workers on strike? A report commissioned by several UFCW union locals sheds critical light on the lives of the racially diverse Kroger workforce. Titled “Hungry At the Table,” the white paper surveyed nearly 37,000 workers in Colorado, Seattle and Southern California. Key points to remember, explained by Errol Schweizer:

  • More than three quarters of Kroger workers are food insecure and cannot regularly access healthy food. This is a rate of more than 7 times the national average.
  • Nine out of 10 workers say their wages haven’t increased as much as basic, inflation-adjusted expenses since 1990. Salaries for Kroger employees have fallen 11% to 22%.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Kroger workers face frequent economic hardship. More than 50% cannot afford to pay rent.
  • At least 85% of Kroger workers who are single parents are food insecure and cannot afford to provide enough good food for their children.

Foxtrot pockets an additional $100 million. What will this mean for emerging brands? With new funds in the bank, Shayna Harris asks if Foxtrot is becoming the new and improved Whole Foods for emerging brands?

Monster Beverage takes a big step into the alcohol business with the purchase of CANarchy. Bringing the CANarchy Craft Beer Collective into the fold, Hudson Lindenberger writes that Monster Beverage is about to spill out of the soda door and into the beer cooler.

Insects may play a bigger role in our food supply. The use of insects in protein for animal feed and pet food is gaining wide appeal, writes Steven Savage.

How Bonterra Winery Achieved Sustainability. Bonterra Winery became the first certified carbon neutral winery in October 2021, and Master of Wine Liz Thatch came to tell us about it.

I like a bone-in ham, and I especially like a Christmas ham that I eat too long in January. (Do it at your own risk!) I got this honey-glazed spiral ham from the online butcher Bay Area Cream Co. Meats, which sources antibiotic- and hormone-free ham from Berwood Farms in Des Monks, Iowa. Here is a pasta fagioli I made from leftovers and bones simmered too long with beans, tomatoes, onions and carrots.

Chloe Sorvino leads food and agriculture coverage as a staff writer on Forbes’ corporate team. Her nearly eight years of reporting at Forbes have taken her to In-N-Out Burger’s secretive test kitchen, to drought-ravaged farms in California’s Central Valley, to burned-out national forests logged by a timber billionaire, to a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha, and even a chocolate croissant factory designed like a medieval castle in northern France. His book about the fight for the future of meat will be released by Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books in September 2022.

Thank you for reading the twentieth edition of Forbes Fresh Take! Let me know what you think. Subscribe to Forbes Fresh Take here.

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