Does the old “principled” adage about the glass being half-empty or half-full have as much application to groceries as it does about attitude? In-spite of those that took umbrage with me after reading my last column, I believe it does…

Is the bag half-full, or half-empty?  (Groceries, that is.)

Does the old “principled” adage about the glass being half-empty or half-full have as much application to groceries as it does about attitude? In-spite of those that took umbrage with me after reading my last column, I believe it does.

Commodity prices are still high and there is uncertainty about a late spring and forecasted growing conditions. But the argument about high commodity prices having much affect on our grocery bill, still doesn’t hold much water; especially pre-packaged, fabricated product. As pointed out in my last article, meat is still the exception.

Livestock producers don’t have the luxury of pseudo economics. The price of feed is still his biggest expenditure. The ratio of grain input in his cost of production is totally upside-down in comparison to that of producing a box of corn flakes.

Consumers should be more concerned about things like the drought in Texas cattle country, and high grain prices forcing livestock producers out of business. The pennies involved in the cost of a bag of groceries are inconsequential compared to that of the farmers and ranchers that are going broke in the livestock business. The next time you complain about the price of a piece of meat – be a little more thoughtful about the one who produced it for you.

When you hear all this flack about higher grocery prices, take another look in your grocery bag. Is it even half full of groceries, or is it more than half full of sundries and things that are far removed from the grocery shelf?

It seems that there are some misunderstood quirks in how the prices of food and other consumer items are measured. The consumer price index is intended to measure just that. But to do this the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to record prices for thousands of items each month – most of which have nothing to do with groceries. Thus they have to decide which items accurately represent grocery consumer spending and the actual relationship to conventional groceries.

By this kind of a measurement you can see that it is relatively complicated to determine what’s in the grocery bag. This is further complicated by society needs and buying habits. Remember when the bag used to get blurred with eggs and cream-can receipts. Now it’s computer and video entrees. How times have changed – in what we eat, how we cook, and practical necessities vs. non-essentials, and it will continue to change; driven more by price than need, but always making it nearly impossible to determine if the bag is “half-full or half-empty”.

Obviously this is an ever changing constant for the Bureau of Labor statistics to measure. The accuracy of such data is only as good as all the variables that have to be evaluated and determined to be pertinent data. How will they measure what’s in your grocery bag will always be questionable, but you can be assured that it’s not all groceries.

In spite of such ambiguous numbers, the news-makers seem to report only the negative. Anticipated higher grocery prices are headline news, but what about the fact that the average proportion of consumers income spent on food has dropped steadily since the beginning of keeping such records. Granted, incomes have grown substantially over this period of time, and technology in farming and food processing has increased production and efficiencies beyond expectations.

The benefactor of all this has been the consumer. It is so hard for a farmer or rancher to hear all the belly-aching from consumers who continue to complain about high food prices. It is even worse to listen to the news media hype such negativity. Not only have farmers and ranchers kept food prices low, they don’t like to be accused of being responsible for the cost of everything in the “bag”. Arbitrarily calling everything from toys to bobby pins groceries is beginning to rub those that work hard from sun-up to sunset – the wrong way.

To add insult to injury, higher food prices are quick to get noticed, but it is a fact that it takes about six months for prices to adjust to the down side. Not so for the grain and meat producers; their impact is immediate. So be assured, that if you’ve seen the slightest of price increases in your grocery bag, they will be back to normal by the end of the year.

You actually didn’t see much of an increase; you just heard about it and were quick to spread this terrible news to your friends and neighbors. Many companies were actually slow to pass along any increase, for fear of chasing away even more customers.
Groceries are a high volume business; something that every “big-box” store in America wants a part of – because they have just the “ticket” to fill the other half of the bag and disguise it as groceries.

The issue of the “grocery bag” being half full or half empty will continue to be debated over coffee clutches in every mom and pop restaurant in America. Though the argument should be about the high risk of inflation, volatile commodity prices, and global turmoil – how much of it is really groceries?