DENVER — The money you're saving on gasoline may go toward buying steaks, ribs and chicken for the barbecue.
Meat prices are expected to rise faster than overall food costs in 2012. Prices rose in the spring and may increase an additional 1 to 3 percent this summer. Grill masters will find bargains harder to come by as retailers attempt to recoup some of the higher costs.
Gas prices have dropped about a quarter recently in most parts of the country, which helps consumers. But shoppers should look to stock up when they see sales on burger meat, steaks, chicken wings or pork chops.
Here's what consumers need to know:
Here's the beef. Supermarket meat prices have increased because the number of cattle, hogs and chickens dropped last year in the U.S. due to weather.
A wet spring delayed corn planting last year. Traders drove up the price of corn futures because supplies were low and demand was robust from livestock producers, ethanol processors and overseas buyers. Corn futures jumped to a high of $7.87 per bushel last June.
Feedlot owners who use corn to fatten cattle felt the pinch. Hog and chicken producers cut back on the number of animals they raised to offset higher corn costs.
In addition, a devastating drought in parts of the country dried up grasslands and ranges where cattle graze. Some ranchers sold off big numbers of animals instead of paying to truck in hay for feed.
In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said U.S. cattle herds were the smallest since 1952. Live cattle futures jumped to $1.3115 per pound in February, the highest level in decades. That meant higher costs for feedlot owners and meatpackers. Those costs were passed on to consumers.
A scare about a beef additive dubbed “pink slime” and a case of mad cow disease in California seemed to have a limited impact on consumer demand, said Mike Zuzolo, president of Global Commodity Analytics & Consulting LLC.