Anyone who’s shopped for groceries or eaten out lately has probably felt the creep of inflation.
Across the country, consumer prices saw their biggest year-over-year rise since 1981, according to the latest federal Consumer Price Index, which takes into account the cost of everything from apples to air fare.
Consumer prices overall rose 8.5% between March 2021 and March 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, the largest increase in more than 40 years.
One of the biggest drivers has been the cost of food. Looking at the most recent data released in March, overall food prices are up 8.8% year-over-year, with groceries up 10% and dining out up 6.9%.
Simply put, this means your morning doughnut or take-out dinner likely costs more now than it did a year ago, with pandemic-related supply chain snarls, labor shortages and the Russian invasion of Ukraine all playing a role.
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But those numbers only tell part of the story. To see the impact of inflation locally, The Courier Journal talked to niche businesses related to the food industry and part of Louisvillians’ everyday lives: A coffee house, a butcher, a cookie maker and a farmers market vendor.
Here’s what we found:
Ntaba Coffee Haus
If it hasn’t already, the price of your morning cup of joe could be rising.
And at Ntaba Coffee Haus, 2407 Brownsboro Road, it happened in late February, general manager Zach Wilson said.
“We’re trying not to pass on too much to the customers, but it comes to a time when you just have to,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to do as little increments as possible.”
A medium-sized drip coffee went from $3 to $3.25 in February, while a medium latte went up from $3.50 to $4.00. A popular brand of pastry went up 50 cents as well, Wilson added.
“The thing you’re paying for, it’s priced for a reason because it’s all the other stuff that goes into the shop,” Wilson said.
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Wilson said that price increases were foreshadowed by the pandemic and that a slight increase seems manageable for Ntaba Coffee Haus’ clientele.
“Everybody is pretty on board with understanding this is, kind of like, what’s going to happen,” he said.
But if prices have to go up again, Wilson anticipated that consumers may become more “inflexible” about their coffee spending.
“Everything that actually goes into serving you a cup of coffee, all those prices have risen steadily,” Wilson said.
And inflation could cause Ntaba Coffee Haus to raise their retail prices again “in a couple of months,” Wilson said. “The new hurdle for people is going to be getting over, kind of like, a six-dollar coffee cup hurdle.”
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Kingsley Meats and Catering
At the glass display cases at Kingsley Meats and Catering near Bowman Field, prices are a common topic.
“Our loyal customers, they’ll say, ‘Gosh, is this ever going to come down?’” owner Jeff Fisher said.
The answer, he thinks, is most certainly yes. But when that will happen is harder to tell.
Inflation’s impact is clear when looking at the freshly ground and sliced offerings at the nearly 80-year-old butcher shop at 2701 Taylorsville Road.
Bone-in chicken breasts are selling for $3.89 per pound, up from $2.89 before the pandemic. Center cut pork chops have gone from $2.98 per pound to $4.29.
Meanwhile, USDA prime steak — the best Fisher sells — is $34.98 per pound, nearly twice the $17.98 pre-pandemic price.
And king crab legs have skyrocketed. Around $24 per pound in 2020, the crab legs now are going for $59.98.
“Those are the ones that like, holy cow, nobody’s going to pay that,” he said. “But you know, some people still do.”
He hasn’t seen consumers altogether stop buying products, but some have altered how much they buy.
“They might still buy a prime T-bone steak or some crab king legs but it’ll be for themselves and their husband, not when they’re having eight of their friends over,” he said.
Wholesale prices are up at the small meat packing businesses where Fisher sources his proteins, as are prices on many non-food items, such as the paper and plastic products used for packaging.
Fisher said, in broad terms, his costs first shot up in spring 2020 when the pandemic hit, then softened before shooting up again in the last quarter of 2021.
“There hasn’t been much of an increase in wholesale prices in the last six, seven weeks. It’s pretty much leveled off,” he said. “We’re all holding our breath saying surely to goodness they’re going to come back down because they are so high.”
Supply chain issues also have shifted Fisher’s purchasing habits.
Take the upcoming Cherokee Triangle Art Fair. Fisher typically would place food orders a few weeks ahead of the show and have them delivered the week of the fair. That’s not the case this year.
“I got those and put them in my freezer three weeks ago because the suppliers told me, ‘You better do it. Because if you call that week, I can’t guarantee you we’re going to say, OK, no problem. We got it,’” he said. “You get things in ahead of time because if you wait until close to it, you might be out in the cold.”
Local favorite Kizito Cookies is facing its first retail price increase in five years.
The rising cost of business is taking a toll, said Todd Bartlett, co-owner of Kizito Cookies, 1398 Bardstown Road.
Prices for ingredients like butter and eggs are way up, while the cost of labor and transportation continue to increase as well. Bartlett said Kizito Cookies just can’t absorb those costs anymore.
Right now, the company — which was founded and is co-owned by “Cookie Lady” Elizabeth Kizito — is buying butter for $3.69 a pound, up from $2.38 in 2021. And eggs that were once $1.80 a dozen now cost $2.70, Bartlett said.
“There’s just so much in flux,” he said. “We were waiting for prices to stabilize but it doesn’t look like they’re going to.”
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Kizito Cookies’ last retail price increase was in 2017, when it rose from $1.25 to $1.50 per cookie.
Compared to other cookie retailers, “we’re really a cheap gourmet cookie,” Bartlett said. “We have room to increase the price.”
Besides its own storefront, Kizito Cookies partners with other local businesses who sell its product, saying that the last time they increased retail, they didn’t lose any accounts.
But Bartlett recognizes that gourmet cookies aren’t a necessity, and he said he understands consumers might have to make hard choices when it comes to buying luxury items.
Although Kizito Cookies doesn’t know exactly how much the retail price will increase, Bartlett said, it’s a sure thing in the coming months.
Farmers market vendors
Inflation has also affected vendors who sell their products at farmers markets, where business owners say they’ve needed to increase their prices.
“It’s a struggle. It’s always a struggle,” said Dudley Tapp, a farmer who sells his On Tapp Dairy products on Saturdays beside other small business operators in the parking lot at 1722 Bardstown Road in the Highlands.
He said he comes with his wife every Saturday with the hopes of making a living and maintaining the farm he has owned all his life.
Tapp said he had to raise prices just as the pandemic began and now inflation is “hitting the farmers pretty, pretty hard.”
He said he had to raise prices because he could not get his animals into the butcher. “We were running out of product and the butchers charge twice as much as normal, it seemed.”
Other vendors, like Wells Made Co. and Georgia’s Sweet Potato Pie Co., increased their prices even before the pandemic.
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Mason Wells, who was selling his mother’s products at the farmers market, said that they increased the price of jars of seeds and nut butter mixtures from $12 to $14. He said that the cost to prepare the jars is approximately $10.
“It did cost less before. Nuts are a lot harder to get ahold of nowadays,” Wells said. “And it’s more expensive, especially the almonds, I would say.”
Wells said that people noticed the price surge and they “are a little upset that prices went up, but a lot of people will still make the purchase. So it’s not too bad.”
Reach Ana Alvarez Briñez at [email protected]; follow her on Twitter at @SoyAnaAlvarez. Reach Matt Glowicki at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @mattglo. Contact reporter Rae Johnson at [email protected] Follow them on Twitter at @RaeJ_33.