Grocery bills may spike after coronavirus disruptions, Wegmans warns

Wegmans is primarily seeing price increases throughout its meat department

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Wegmans customers may face higher totals at the cash register as the COVID-19 pandemic's disruption of supply chains forces the grocer to pass on cost increases.

Not only have operating expenses increased for the regional supermarket company, which comprises more than 100 stores from New York to North Carolina, prices have climbed in supply-challenged markets such as meat.

"For these reasons, retail prices on certain items in our stores will fluctuate in response," the company told employees in an email obtained by FOX Business.

The company is "primarily" seeing price increases in beef, pork and chicken, Deana Percassi, Wegmans' director of public relations, told FOX Business on Friday.

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"As costs fluctuate up or down, retail prices will also fluctuate accordingly," she added.

Grocery stores across the U.S. have grappled with COVID-19 challenges from supply-chain upheaval to intense early demand for paper towels, toilet tissue and sanitizer as states issued stay-at-home orders and left customers worried that they might not have sufficient supplies.

Later, beef plants were temporarily shuttered when workers contracted COVID-19, leading to shortages for both grocers and restaurants.

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"As grocers, we have experienced more change in the past two months than we have in the last 50 years," the company said in its letter. "Not just the changes you see in our stores, but those that go unseen, as well."

At the beginning of May, U.S. beef and pork processing capacity was already 40 percent lower than last year, according to Jayson Lusk, head of agricultural economics at Purdue University.

Some meatpacking plants have since come back online after President Trump issued an executive order requiring them to stay open. Until they’re back at full capacity, however, the shortages and higher prices will remain.

Poultry production has also been impacted but to a lesser degree.

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Although operations continue to shift, Wegmans promised to keep its shelves full and its stores safe for customers and employees.

Within weeks of the U.S. outbreak, the company stepped up safety protocols to include proper protective equipment, employee wellness checks and dedicatied shopping hours for vulnerable populations including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

"Grocers are on the front line of this pandemic, not only in the true sense of being an essential business, but in figuring out how to operate a business safely and successfully," Wegmans said. "Our priority has always been the safety of our employees and customers and keeping our stores open."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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