Celebrating America's birthday is going to cost a few extra bucks this year.
The price of an average summer cookout is up 5.4 percent compared with last year, according to a survey released Tuesday by the American Farm Bureau Federation, a farming advocacy group. The group sent 83 volunteers in 25 states to grocery stores to check retail prices of barbecue favorites: hot dogs, burgers, ketchup, potato salad, and more.
They estimated the cost of a barbecue for 10 people this summer to be $58.72, about $3 more than last year's total, according to the volunteers' estimates. The increase is largely due to soaring prices for the centerpiece of cookouts: meat. This year, the cost of ground beef is up 13.4 percent, from $7.86 to $8.91 per two pounds, the survey found. The price of pork spareribs has also increased, by 13.2 percent, from $12.29 to $13.91 per four pounds.
The most recent available numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from this past May, put the price of retail beef slightly lower, at an average of $7.70 per two pounds. Still, U.S. retail beef prices are currently at an all-time high, thanks to the country's shrinking cattle herd, which is at its smallest size in 63 years. The Agriculture Department predicts beef production will drop 5.4 percent this year, hitting a 20-year low—and probably drive up burger prices next Fourth of July, too.
The barbecue food that saw the biggest price increase is the most American of cheeses, American cheese. That's up 14.3 percent, from $2.73 to $3.12 per pound, according to the survey. BLS data put the average price of American cheese in U.S. cities even higher, at $4.52 per pound.
The American Farm Bureau Federation survey found that prices of other barbecue staples, like potato salad, hot dog and hamburger buns, mustard, and watermelon, remained about the same as last year. Hot dog themselves, however, are 2.6 percent cheaper this summer, now $2.23 per pound instead of $2.29, according to the AFBF. Lemonade prices also went down slightly, they found, by 3.4 percent, from $2.07 to $2 per half-gallon.
One crucial cookout item, however, appears to be getting cheaper and cheaper. And, thankfully, it's the nation's favorite condiment. The price of ketchup is down 12 percent, from $1.55 per 20-ounce bottle last year to $1.36 this year, the AFBF found.
While your barbecue may be a bit more expensive this weekend overall, the cost per person remains just under $6, like last year. That's, of course, before all the booze.
This article appears in the July 3, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.