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A sustained surge in the cost of pork — caused in part by a virus that has killed as many as 7 million pigs — has forced several southwest Ohio restaurants and grocery stores to raise prices.
And more hikes may be on the horizon: Several local restaurant and grocery store owners who so far have avoided boosting prices say they won’t be able to do so much longer.
“We absorbed it for a long time, as long as we could,” said Robert Bernhard Jr., owner of Dot’s Market, which operates grocery stores in Bellbrook and Kettering. “But we’ve had to adjust some of our prices, unfortunately.”
Kroger has seen wholesale price increases and has “raised some retail (prices) accordingly,” Kroger spokeswoman Rachael Betzler said.
Jack Gridley, who oversees meat and seafood for Dorothy Lane Market stores, said DLM has not raised fresh-pork prices, but did add 20 cents a pound to its spiral-sliced ham prices prior to Easter.
The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), which does not affect humans or food safety, kills 80 percent to 100 percent of the piglets that contract it. The virus began to emerge as a problem a year ago, and since then more than 4,000 outbreaks have been reported in at least 30 states, four Canadian provinces and several areas of Mexico.
The National Pork Producers Council said earlier this month that hog slaughter this summer could fall by more than 10 percent from 2013 levels because of PEDv. The council estimated that hog prices would rise by 15 to 25 percent, and consumer prices for pork by 10 to 12 percent. Droughts in several parts of the U.S. and the rising cost of grain used for livestock feed have contributed to the rising prices, which also have pushed beef prices higher.
But it’s pork belly — the cut from which bacon is made — that has seen some of the biggest jumps. Bernhard said the suggested retail price of a 1-pound package of Oscar Mayer bacon has jumped to $8.99 — up from $4.99 to $5.99 a year ago. Dot’s was selling it for less than the suggested retail price last week, but Bernhard said he was forced to raise the price of his bulk bacon from $3.99 to $4.49 per pound because of rising pork belly wholesale costs.
The region’s restaurants that utilize pork front and center on their menus are facing similar pressures.
The locally owned OinkADoodleMoo barbecue restaurant chain has been offering its “Buck A Bone” Wednesday special on pork ribs for five years, but the rising wholesale cost of pork has forced Steve Meyer, OinkADoodleMoo’s chief operating officer and a franchise owner, to raise the per-bone price to $1.15. The cost of the restaurants’ pulled-pork sandwich also rose, from $4.89 to $4.99.
Those modest price increases won’t cover Meyer’s skyrocketing food costs. The pork shoulder used for pulled pork that he was buying a year ago for 97 cents a pound now costs $1.81 a pound — an 87 percent increase.
“We’ll take part of the hit, and we’re feeling it,” Meyer said. “There are no winners here.”
Dan Davis, owner of Hickory River Smokehouse in Tipp City, said his restaurant’s wholesale pork costs have risen 70 cents a pound in recent months — “the largest increase that we have seen in a long time,” he said.
“We are reluctant to increase our menu prices, but it is something that we will eventually have to do in order to offset these drastic increases in food costs,” Davis said.
Mary Grilliot, co-owner of Company 7 BBQ, is in a similar position.
“So far we have not gone up, and we hope the price pressure will ease soon,” Grilliot said.
Pizza restaurants — which use plenty of pepperoni, sausage, ham and bacon on their pies — are also keeping a close eye on their escalating costs.
“Our pork prices are up 16 to 21 percent since January,” said Roger Glass, owner of Marion’s Piazza, which serves up 6,000 pounds — three tons — of sausage a week at nine locations.
“We’re not at a crisis point yet, and we have absorbed the increase so far,” Glass said.
Another iconic Dayton-based pizza chain, Cassano’s Pizza King, has seen similar increases from apologetic pork suppliers that the chain has been doing business with for decades. But in a competitive southwest Ohio pizza market that has attracted several new entrants in the past few years, no one wants to start charging more.
“We’re holding our prices for right now,” said Vic “Chip” Cassano III, third-generation CEO of Cassano’s Pizza King. “And we’re hoping things turn around.”