When we think of a cheap and easy meal, what comes to mind most often is the old elementary school lunchbox classic: the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Unfortunately, however, it looks like we’re going to have to leave that idea on the shelf for a while. Due to the worst peanut harvest in decades, peanut prices are shooting through the roof, and its effects are already being seen in grocery stores across the country.
CNN is reporting that the price for a ton of runner peanuts (the type most commonly used to make peanut butter) has risen from last year’s $450 to a staggering $1,200 this year. In addition, the USDA is predicting a 13 percent total drop in peanut production from last year’s numbers. This is all reportedly the result of heat and drought that wreaked havoc on the U.S. south over the year, critically stunting peanut crop growth and leading to harvests that came up short.
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But the real problem is what’s happening in retail. The poor peanut harvest has led to some hefty prices hikes among peanut butter producers, and it’s not with just one or two brands. Quite to the contrary, raised prices are likely to be the rule, not the exception. On Monday, Kraft raised the price of its Planters brand peanut butter by 40 percent, while ConAgra raised the price of its usually economical Peter Pan brand peanut butter by 20 percent. A day later, J.M. Smucker hiked up its Jif brand peanut butter prices by 30 percent.
We’re hoping that next year sees a more stable peanut harvest, and that prices will adjust accordingly to reflect the more reasonable prices that should come as a result. But as much as this is painted as an isolated climate-driven event, we worry that it’s more indicative of the drastically rising staple food prices that Oxfam America predicted months ago. If that’s the case, and legislators fail to take notice of their plan of action, they may have much more to worry about in years to come than some angry PB&J fans.