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Pork, Beef Face Battle with Cheaper Chicken

by 5m Editor
29 April 2010, at 5:51a.m.

US - Pork and beef producers face an intensifying battle at the supermarket meat case from cheaper, more plentiful chicken, analysts say.

US grocery stores probably will step up discounts and specials on fresh chicken in coming weeks after wholesale beef and pork prices soared near two-year highs, BB&T Capital Markets analyst, Heather Jones, said. Wholesale chicken prices have also risen, though not nearly as much as beef and pork.

As a result, price ‘spreads’ – or the difference between what retailers pay for wholesale meat and what they charge in their stores – suggest grocer discounts will favor chicken breasts and legs more than steaks and chops.

“We believe this is bullish for chicken retail feature activity,” Dr Jones has said in a report.

Increased chicken competition could be troubling for pork and beef demand, which suffered in recent years from the recession and a slump in exports. Retailers have been reluctant to raise prices with the economy’s recovery still fragile. Some major chains, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., recently launched advertising campaigns touting lower prices for most goods.

For pork and beef, retail prices have yet to catch up with the run-up at the wholesale level, reports Pork Magazine.

Retail pork prices on average were about $1.61 a pound above wholesale values during March, compared with a spread of $1.83 a year earlier, Dr Jones said, citing USDA data. In beef, retail prices were about $1.91 above wholesale, compared with $2.21 a year earlier.

Chicken prices at retail during March were about 92.8 cents above wholesale, compared with 95.4 cents a year earlier.

Rising pork and beef prices reflect tighter supplies of slaughter-ready animals, after livestock producers cut herds in recent years.

On wholesale markets, choice beef cut-out values yesterday averaged $1.7027 a pound, the highest since prices approached $1.74 in July 2008, according to USDA data. Pork carcass values averaged 89.83 cents a pound yesterday, up 33 per cent this year.

Beef and pork prices are “still robust,” Dr Jones wrote. Wholesale pork has been “exploding” higher, she said.

Many grocers have already been promoting discounted chicken, as well as specials on pork and beef cuts.