New Orleans During the campaign discussion at the ACORN Canada YE/YB there was ongoing attention to the financialization of housing, winning heating and cooling thresholds for tenants, and expanding internet access, but there was also a proposal from the Toronto organizers that sparked an interesting discussion. Members at local meetings kept bringing up the issue of food prices. They had heard all the pandemic arguments about supply chains and labor shortages, but that was then, this was now, and prices continued not to go down. What’s up, and what could be done about it?
Obviously, the discussion was impromptu, so there’s a lot of work to be done to refine the targets and demands, but the members are feeling the pain, and the organization is moving to respond. There’s also no question that they are onto something real here. Economists are noticing this as well. They call this “low price elasticity.” This is a situation where companies pass on price increases without losing customers, who, despite the price hikes, keep buying the product. Kellogg, the big cereal outfit, among others, has been doing this recently, and getting away with it. Worse, as ACORN members have noted on both sides of the border, and globally, they are thriving, while we are striving.
The Wall Street Journal confirms in the US what the Canadian members are feeling:
Prices for most foods are still rising or staying high, though some have declined over the past year. Average unit prices of avocados have decreased by double digits, while oranges, lobster and tilapia have declined by single digits, according to data…. U.S. supermarket prices overall were up 2.1% in October from a year before, the Labor Department said last month. Walmart, the country’s largest retailer by revenue, sees some nonfood and fresh-food prices falling compared with earlier this year, but shelf-stable food and other consumable prices remain high, Chief Executive Doug McMillon said last month. Kroger executives said …that inflation has returned to low single digits from double digits last year. While some fresh groceries have returned to typical levels of inflation, they said, many packaged items haven’t. Campbell Soup … has bumped up promotions on its broth and condensed soups, in response to competition and to maintain affordability, particularly for lower-income consumers. “For the vast majority [of categories] I’m not yet seeing any type of deflation,” CEO Clouse said in an interview. “The encouraging point here is that at least prices have not been going up.”
Small comfort that.
The New York Times notes that food and some other companies are holding prices high as they switch strategies from gaining market share to maintaining profit margins. They are also focusing on “inventory discipline,” meaning less items in stock and on the shelves, so fewer items for clearance and sales.
So, it’s happening, but what can we win? That’s a harder problem. I warned the crew, without beating the horse to death, that the worst campaign I ever ran was the infamous Anti-Inflation Campaign in the late 70s. The clear demand was lower prices, but too many targets. We need to find the seam where grocery and food purveyors are holding the limits and hit them hard. Now, we need to find who they are and how ready the members are to take action. This is a tough one, but when the members say jump, we say,