Food prices

Tony Martino of North Cape May and meat manager for Gaiss's Market in Villas, puts together party barbecue special meat packages for customers at the market. Food prices are up this Fourth of July holiday.

Backyard barbecues are costing more this Independence Day weekend as consumers find higher prices for everything from their potato salad to their hamburgers and steaks.

Beef is up 4 percent, boneless sirloin steak is up nearly 9 percent and ham is up more than 11 percent from last year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The prices of chicken wings and breasts are up 5 percent.

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Practically the only bargain at this year's barbecue is the hamburger fixings: Lettuce is down 5 to 15 percent, depending on the variety.

"I noticed that. Everything is a little more expensive," said James Mays, owner of May's Meat Market on Shore Road in Pleasantville.

"Hamburger used to be lower priced, but now it's almost as much as steak," he said.

Mays, of Pleasantville, sells frozen packaged goods such as cases of beef patties and wings. Buying in bulk is one way consumers can save on their weekly grocery bills, he said.

"I sell chicken legs by the case - 40 pounds. A normal-sized freezer will hold that," he said.

At Gaiss' Market in Lower Township, owner John Louderback said prices have inched up in the past year.

"By and large, things are more expensive than last year, but I didn't see any sharp increase," he said. "Pork was getting expensive, but not at an all-time high. Chicken was going up until a couple weeks ago. This time of year, steaks always go up. The more-expensive steaks are probably at all-time highs."

His store offers high-quality meats, smoked sausages and cheeses on Bayshore Road in the Villas.

"There was a huge increase in potato prices recently. At the same time, everything has its seasonal fluctuations," he said.

Now is a good time to get Jersey Fresh berries and vegetables, he said.

Shoppers said they have noticed their grocery bills getting bigger this year.

"You practically need to own a farm," said Trisha Sientki, of Lower Township, as she shopped for weekly lunchmeat.

Her family plans to enjoy spare ribs, steaks and hamburgers this week for their annual grill-out.

"We try to go to different stores to find a deal," she said.

Sandy Grone, of Lower Township, plans to enjoy a cook-out with family this weekend with ribs, chicken, scallops and watermelon complete with seeds the kids can spit. She noticed that food prices are on the rise.

"I can't think of anything that hasn't gone up," she said. "Eggs, bread, ground beef. The only thing you can get a deal on lately is butter and ice cream."

Ice-cream prices have fallen 5 percent over the past year, according to national figures.

With food prices as high as they are, it would not be unreasonable to ask people to chip in to pay for a family barbecue, Grone said.

"Or people can bring something like a salad to the barbecue to share. But that's taken for granted," she said.

More vacationers, too, are choosing to eat in to save money on restaurant tabs, said Patrick Sluk, owner of the Westside Market in West Cape May.

"They'll come to us to buy chicken or steaks for the grill or get sandwiches instead of having a more expensive night at a restaurant," said Sluk, of Cape May.

Meanwhile, local customers are being a little more careful in their buying, he said.

"They're being more cautious. Instead of just saying, 'Give me 5 pounds of ground beef,' they'll ask how much a pound of hamburger will feed. They don't want to have leftovers," he said.

His store is keeping pace with rising prices to maintain the quality its customers have come to expect, he said.

"If you want to carry the same quality products and give the same service, you have to go with the price increases," he said. "It's happening everywhere."

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