US beef prices set new high as spring barbecue season heats up

Fri May 3, 2013 6:43pm EDT
 
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By Theopolis Waters

CHICAGO May 3 (Reuters) - U.S. wholesale beef prices rose to an all-time high on Friday as the delayed spring grilling season is heating up and as supermarkets buy meat for the May 27 U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend, commonly seen as the unofficial start of the summer cookout season, analysts said.

The cold soggy start to spring put outdoor cookouts on hold throughout most of April, but temperatures are seen climbing in the coming weeks, prompting grocers to stock up for a seasonal bump in sales of steaks, burgers and other cookout favorites.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday reported the wholesale price for choice beef, commonly called the cutout, at $201.68 per 100 lbs (cwt), eclipsing the previous record of $201.18 set on Oct 16, 2003.

"You're now finally getting the seasonal rally occurring for beef that's about three-weeks late getting started," said Chicago-based Linn Group analyst John Ginzel.

"I suspect some retailers are booking product for Memorial Day features," he said.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) weekly retail scanner data shows Memorial Day ranks third in weekly holiday beef retail sales at about $370 million, behind U.S. Labor Day sales of $380 million. The U.S. July Fourth holiday is No. 1 at around $400 million.

Record-high wholesale beef prices could increase even more the lofty beef prices at grocery stores, analysts said.

The average retail beef price in March hit a record $5.30 per lb, surpassing the previous record of $5.15 in November, according to the government's Economic Research Service.   Continued...