The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented disruption of global supply chains, the axis on which the modern service economy spins. Social distancing requirements have scathed both supply and demand sides of the coin. The quarantine means that people don't need as much fossil fuel for their cars and so on. The precipitous falling off of demand means lower prices, as anyone who's glanced at a gas pump recently knows.
On the flip side, a coronavirus outbreak at an industrial agriculture plant can threaten production. Ordinary people feel the sting of that where it hurts: their wallets. Everyone still has to eat. And with restaurants remaining at limited capacity, grocery stores see more traffic than ever.
Psychological panic from economic disruption also exacerbates the issue. Worried families begin hoarding food. Their purchases create a devastating feedback loop in which prices rise higher and higher.
New figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics crystallize the phenomenon. A CNN Business article breaks down the numbers according to food group and meal categories. The statistics represent price changes between March and April of this year.
The most important meal of the day, as the saying goes, is now that much more difficult to assemble. Breakfast cereal, doughnuts, and muffins are between 1.5 and 5 percent more expensive. Egg prices went through the roof with a painful 16.1 percent increase. Beverages haven't escaped the rationing either. Milk, juice, and coffee all cost more money recently.
Lunch might be the most insubstantial meal of the day by custom. Its lean makeup looks like a blessing in disguise right about now. Soup costs 2.6 percent more than it did. Fruit prices are up across the board.
Because of more and more sickness bouts at slaughterhouses, meat is more expensive. The Bureau report indicates that pork is up 3 percent. Chicken costs 5.8 percent more. Fish is 4.2 percent less cheap. Healthy options seem limited, with vegetable prices up by 1.5 percent. People nursing recent additions to their families are buying baby formula at 2.7 more than they were. And as for sweets and dessert? Soda and cookies might now be extravagances that fewer families can afford to indulge in. They're up by 4.5 percent and 5.1 percent respectively.
It's cliché to say that economics is complicated. While social scientists can isolate trends, there are few, if any, hard and fast rules. Not every meat category price rose. Ham and sausage prices fell at the modest rates of 1.7 and 0.3 percent respectively. There was a dairy reprieve with butter down 1.3 percent. Some veggie alternatives appear more viable, with pre-prepared salad prices decreasing by 3.6 percent and tomatoes by 1.4. And maybe people can afford that dessert after all: Cupcakes cost a merciful 2.3 percent less.