Call it the Great Grocery-Store Giveaway of 2016.
In Austin, Texas, Randalls slashed prices for boneless beef ribs by 40 percent, to $3.99 a pound. Not to be outdone, the H-E-B grocer down the street charged $1 a pound less. Not long ago, Albertsons advertised a deal you don’t normally see on your finer cuts of meat: “buy 1 get 1 free” specials on “USDA Choice Petite Sirloin Steak.”
And what does $1 buy these days? In North Bergen, New Jersey, you could pick up a dozen eggs at Wal-Mart. OK, the price was actually $1.14. A mile away, check out Aldi, the German supermarket discounter, which can actually break the buck -- 12 eggs for 99 cents. A year ago, you would have paid, on average, three times that price.
In a startling development, almost unheard of outside a recession, food prices have fallen for nine straight months in the U.S. It’s the longest streak of food deflation since 1960 -- with the exception of 2009, when the financial crisis was winding down. Analysts credit low oil and grain prices, as well as cutthroat competition from discounters. Consumers are winning out; grocery chains, not so much. Their margins and, in some cases, their stock prices, are taking a hit.
Eggs and beef have have grown especially inexpensive, and it isn’t only an American phenomenon: In England, Aldi recently offered its prized 8-ounce wagyu steaks from New Zealand for about $6.50 -- a little more than the price of a pint of beer.
“The severity of what we’re seeing is completely unprecedented,” said Scott Mushkin, an analyst at Wolfe Research who has studied grocery prices around the country for more than ten years. “We’ve never seen deflation this sharp.”
Mushkin, who researches local markets, recently found that prices of a typical basket of grocery items in Houston, had fallen almost 5 percent over the past year.
He credits, in part, the discerning behavior of shoppers like Manny Sinclair. On a weekday lunch break, the 43-year-old contractor stopped by a Wal-Mart in Secaucus, New Jersey, to pick up turtle food and paper towels.
Sinclair typically buys groceries at his local ShopRite but has recently noticed the steals he now finds at discounters. He glanced at the meat case, where a 12-pack of “Angus steak burgers” fetched $15.82 and grass-fed ground beef could change hands for $4.96 a pound.
Sinclair was intrigued but, in the classic logic of a shopper in an age of deflation, figured he might find even lower prices elsewhere. Along with two Wal-Marts, a Target and an Aldi, the area even offers a Family Dollar that features a small refrigerated section.
“Wherever I find the good deals -- that’s where I’m at,” Sinclair said.
At first, falling prices helped grocers. Low-cost commodities pushed down the tab for meat and packaged food and boosted profits. Now, deflation has turned ugly for the industry. Led by Wal-Mart, retailers are pushing down prices, eating away at their profit margins.
“It starts to border on irrational pricing,” said Jennifer Bartashus, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “People are lowering prices just to draw traffic, without thinking about their margins.”
Supermarkets are facing competition not just from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Aldi but also dollar stores and online retailer Amazon.com Inc. It could get worse. Lidl, one of Aldi’s German competitors, is building three distribution centers on the East Coast and plans to open U.S. stores by 2018. Even Whole Foods Market Inc. -- famously derided as “Whole Paycheck” -- is trying to compete on price through digital coupons and promotions on items such as beer and produce.
In recent years, Kroger Co. -- the largest grocery store chain in the U.S., with nearly 2,800 stores -- cut prices to compete with Wal-Mart and managed to increase its market share and sales. But deflation has been hard on the supermarket chain. The company’s stock has lost more than a quarter of its value this year, as price cuts weighed on profits. Chief Executive Officer Rodney McMullen expressed frustration that many customers don’t even notice.
CEO’s Lament said “The other thing that’s always hard is getting your message out, because it’s fascinating – in our research, most people are saying their basket of goods costs more money,” McMullen said on a call with analysts this month.
The likely reason for McMullen’s lament: Food, on average, makes up only about 15 percent of a consumer’s budget. Except for gas and other energy-related items, prices for most other goods are going up, if only modestly.
At the same time, restaurant food can still be pricey. The situation makes for some strange contrasts: In Chicago, a pound of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee sells for $4.99 at a Jewel-Osco store, less than the cost of a venti pumpkin spice frappuccino at Starbucks. Albertsons Cos. owns Jewel-Osco, as well as Randalls, home of the cheap Texas ribs.
Elena Rosa, a 63-year-old retired health aide, was blasé when she steered her shopping cart past the refrigerator case at Aldi in North Bergen, New Jersey. She paused, noting a dozen eggs for less than $1 -- one of the great food deals of recent memory.
“That’s a good price,” she said, before moving on without buying it.
Atlanta, Roswell, Sandy Springs crack list of top housing...marketsReports show industry is currently healthy, sustainable
Does mention of the Great Recession still make you queasy?
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources confirm what many have sensed for quite some time now: The housing industry is currently healthy and sustainable. Especially in parts of metro Atlanta. Although it might not feel like it to everyone.
WalletHub — a credit score and report website — broke down the best real estate markets city by city with a list of 300 places in the United States. Looks like Roswell (ranked 49th), Sandy Springs (74th), and Atlanta (101st) all made the cut.
Researchers at the site ranked each city based on metrics like median home-price appreciation, housing affordability, and job growth.
The New York Times recently reported that July sales of new single-family homes broke 10-year-old records. (Cue the doomsday bubble chorus!)
Nationwide, which tracks the health of U.S. real estate, reported at the end of quarter two that "the overall U.S. housing market is sustainable ... few regional housing markets are vulnerable to a housing downturn."
Hey, sounds pretty good. Here’s hoping.
Dragon Con is only just the beginning of Atlanta’s September festivals. Find a fest for when you’re going through cosplay withdrawal, whether you love independent film or soul food.
Art in the Park
Fiber artists, glass blowers, and jewelry makers come to the 30th year of this Marietta Square art festival. Kids can draw in the chalk spot.
Yellow Daisy Festival
More than 400 crafters from the across the country will arrive at Stone Mountain Park to sell their work.
Fall Folklife Festival
This Atlanta History Center event honors Georgia traditions, from smokehouse cooking to basket weaving. Make your own cornhusk doll, watch a potter turn ceramics on a kick-wheel, and listen to folk music at the Smith Family Farm.
Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival
The skies above Callaway Gardens will glow with dozens of hot air balloons. Take a tethered balloon ride, or keep things grounded with beach activities, a 5K, and live music.
Atlanta Streets Alive
Take your bike, skateboard, or roller-skates to Highland and Boulevard for this car-free afternoon.
AJC Decatur Book Festival
More than 300 writers take over Decatur Square for the 11th year of this literary fête. Hear National Book Award–winning author Jacqueline Woodson read, watch pop-up Serenbe Playhouse performances, and honor the late Pat Conroy at a keynote by his family and friends.
Gillian Anderson, Daredevil‘s Charlie Cox, and William Shatner are just a few of the dozens of celebrity panelists at this year’s geek gathering. Or just attend Saturday’s parade, where hundreds of cosplayers show off their elaborate costumes.
Hear inspirational talks on biodiversity, city building, and art for this year’s theme of “Together” at the Rialto.
House in the Park
Gather in Grant Park for this house and soul music dance party.
From old school hip-hop like Goodie Mob and Ice Cube to Atlanta favorites like Killer Mike and Big Boi, catch 15 acts at Lakewood Amphitheatre.
Dream Music Fest
Listen to country, jazz, and R&B at this Riverdale concert, including local blues artist Diane Durrett and R&B singer Algebra Blessett.
36 bands will play this year’s Piedmont Park music festival. The Killers, Beck, and Twenty One Pilots headline, but also catch local acts like the Coathangers and the Shadowboxers.
This 11-year-old film festival highlights the best independent documentaries in subjects like environment, politics, art, and social issues. Keep an eye open for celebrities; last year, James Franco took home the best director award.
Georgia Latino Film Festival
This downtown festival showcases the work of Latino filmmakers; panels feature topics such as how to break into the movie industry and Latinas in film.
Taste of Kennesaw
More than 30 restaurants dish out Kennesaw cuisine, from Big Shanty BBQ to California Dreaming’s beer garden.
Taste of Smyrna
Sample food from Smyrna eateries and listen to acoustic sets by Scott Thompson at the Village Green. There’s also a kids zone where your tykes can burn off the snacks.
Hapeville Happy Days
Hapeville turns 125 this year. To celebrate, the city is hosting a festival with a pet parade, live music, and more than 75 vendors.
This Suwanee street fest kicks off with a parade of superheroes. There’s also a 5K/10K run, art vendors, live music by Macy Todd, and more.
Atlanta British Car Fayre
Drive up to Norcross for a jolly good time looking at hundreds British cars and motorcycles, including Rolls Royces. Or shop at the car boot sale (aka yard sale) that attendees can contribute to.
Japanese swordsmanship, dance, drumming, street style, and food come to Infinite Energy Center. Use the virtual reality photo booth to put yourself in scenic shots of Japan.
Atlanta Greek Festival
Chow down on moussaka, gyros, and souvlaki while watching traditional dance and music at this celebration of Greek culture at the Greek Orthodox Church.
Atlanta Jerk Fest
Sample jerk chicken, roti, and roasted fish at this celebration of Caribbean cuisine in Conyers. Reggae and dancehall artists like Third World and Elephant Man perform.
Munch on bagels, lox, and kosher hotdogs at this Marietta Jewish foodie festival. Really love bagels and schmear? Join the bagel-eating contest to see how many you can scarf down in five minutes.
Taste of Soul
Dig into ribs, chicken and waffles, and pies at this soul food and music celebration across from the Dome. Jazz artists like N’Dambi and Phillipia provide the soundtrack.
This Freight Depot festival celebrates all things fromage. Sample local cheeses, vote on who makes the best grilled cheese and mac and cheese dishes, and partake in cheese and liquor pairing classes.