Why is Beef So Expensive Right Now? Exploring the Reasons Behind Skyrocketing Prices

Over the last few years, consumers have experienced drastic increases in beef prices at the grocery store. The cost of beef has reached record highs, leaving many scratching their heads wondering – why is beef so expensive nowadays?

Several factors have converged to drive up the prices of all cuts of beef, from ground beef to steak. Here’s a look at the key reasons behind the skyrocketing costs, as well as some tips for coping with pricier beef.

Causes of Rising Beef Prices

There are a number of issues impacting beef production and availability, which translate into higher prices:

  • Drought conditions – The southwestern U.S. has experienced an intense multi-year drought, severely limiting grazing lands and cattle feed supplies. This forces ranchers to thin herds.

  • Low cattle inventory – With fewer cows to breed and raise, the cattle supply has dropped to its lowest level in decades. Less supply means higher prices for beef.

  • High feed costs – Limited grazing land and low crop yields due to weather drive up the price of essential cattle feed ingredients like corn, soy and wheat.

  • Labor shortages – Like many industries, meat processing plants are impacted by a lack available workers. This slows beef production.

  • Increased export demand – Countries like China and Japan are buying more American beef, shrinking domestic availability.

  • Pandemic disruption – COVID-related plant shutdowns and consumer stockpiling disrupted the beef supply chain and spiked demand.

  • Russia-Ukraine war – Loss of wheat and corn exports from these countries increased global feed costs, raising cattle production expenses.

How Rising Beef Prices Impact Consumers

For consumers, the end result of all these factors is a significant hike in beef prices at the supermarket. Here’s how it hits your wallet:

  • Higher price per pound – The cost of all cuts of beef from ground beef to steaks has gone up. Even typically budget-friendly cuts now cost more.

  • Shrinking package sizes – Many grocers now sell beef in smaller packages with less weight to maintain prior price points. Consumers end up paying more per pound.

  • Substitution with other proteins – Some consumers are switching to lower-cost proteins like chicken, pork or plant-based alternatives to save money.

  • Reduced beef purchases – With strained budgets, some households simply buy less beef overall or reserve it for special occasions rather than everyday cooking.

How Long Will High Beef Prices Last?

Experts say we may be in for an extended period of pricier beef. It can take years to rebuild cattle inventory levels, and climate factors may present ongoing challenges. Many analysts predict beef prices will remain elevated compared to pre-pandemic days for quite some time.

However, prices may ease somewhat in periods when factors like drought conditions improve. It’s unlikely though that beef will drop back down to previous price points anytime soon. Consumers will need to adjust to this new normal.

Tips for Coping With Rising Beef Prices

Here are some suggestions to help offset the sting of high beef prices at the grocery store:

  • Compare unit pricing – Look at cost per pound rather than package size to find true deals. Bulk packages are often cheaper.

  • Mix in lower-cost proteins – Substitute poultry, pork or plant proteins in some meals to reduce beef costs.

  • Incorporate more vegetables – Bulk up beef dishes with veggies like peppers, mushrooms and onions to stretch servings.

  • Try lesser-known cuts – Cuts like chuck eye, flank, skirt or brisket can offer savings over popular steaks.

  • Utilize a slow-cooker – Turn inexpensive stew meat into tender, flavorful dishes like beef stew or shredded beef tacos.

  • Use strong seasonings – Spices, marinades and sauces enhance flavor so you can use less beef.

  • Buy in bulk when on sale – If you see a temporary deep discount on beef, stock up what you can freeze.

  • Check markdown areas – Look for beef nearing its sell-by date that’s marked down for quick sale.

  • Join a beef share – Splitting a side of beef with others can lower costs compared to retail beef.

How Consumers Can Reduce Beef’s Environmental Impact

In addition to making beef more expensive, the issues impacting beef production also reveal troubling environmental impacts that will require changes in how beef is produced and consumed. Here are some ways individuals can help:

  • Eat less beef overall – Reducing beef intake is better for the planet and the wallet. Meatless meals once or twice a week make a difference.

  • Choose grass-fed/organic – Pasture-raised beef has a lighter environmental footprint than conventional feedlot beef.

  • Buy local beef – Supporting regional beef farmers uses less transport fuel and aids local economies.

  • Don’t waste beef – Use best practices for storage, prep and cooking to get the most from the beef you buy. Repurpose leftovers creatively.

  • Be mindful of portion sizes – Take only what you’ll realistically eat to cut down on waste. Compost any scraps.

  • Get political – Vote for leaders who will address climate change issues impacting agriculture. Support climate-friendly food policies and subsidies.

The Outlook Going Forward on Beef Prices

Beef will likely remain expensive compared to historical prices for some time. Inventory rebuilding takes years and climate factors may present ongoing challenges for cattle producers. Consumers can adjust buying habits, cooking practices and expectations to adapt. Taking small steps like cutting back on beef one meal per week can make a cumulative difference.

Is Meat Really That Expensive Right Now?


Why is price of beef going up?

Unlike what happened with eggs, the latest limited supply isn’t being caused by illness among cattle. Instead, experts from the Farm Bureau point to drought conditions and the rising costs of supplies to maintain herds. Both have led to farmers reducing their herd sizes, Nelson explains.

Will meat prices go down 2024?

Cattle supplies are projected to remain tight and support higher fed steer prices. Hogs and broiler prices also are expected to be higher in 2024 as domestic demand strengthens and export demand also absorbs higher supplies.

What is a major reason beef prices skyrocketed?

Retail beef prices in the U.S. are at record highs, pushing up prices of beef-based products from burgers to steaks and steak tartare. That’s largely thanks to a shrinking cattle supply, as well as higher input costs, market watchers told CNBC. And they don’t expect it to ease any time soon.

Why is there a shortage of beef?

Total U.S. cattle and calf inventory dropped to its lowest level since 1951. Agricultural economists say persistent drought over the last three years, along with high input costs and inflation are putting pressure on both consumers and farmers.

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