But…that’s good, right?

Oh no! People in Massachusetts are buying less meat and doing more cooking from scratch. Strong regional chains like Market Basket and Stop & Shop are successfully competing against global behemoths like Walmart and Aldi. New animal welfare regulations are pushing against the worst practices of factory farming. That’s terrible!

What’s terrible, of course, is that these positive developments are either causing or caused by rising food prices in the Bay State. And when it comes to food prices, even smart people have a hard time thinking clearly.

“We never buy meat anymore,” says one interviewee in a recent Boston Globe article (gated, sorry) on the subject. “That’s a luxury we save for special occasions.” Which is historically how most people ate meat, until it became more affordable and taken-for-granted, enabled by practices that most eaters are happier knowing nothing about. There’s lots and lots of evidence that eating less meat is good for a whole lot of reasons, but the implication here is that this is a loss rather than a positive change.

A reporter at WGBH is similarly conflicted about the effects of Massachusetts’ less-monopolized grocery sector. “The abundance of small and medium-sized businesses in Boston prevents any single chain from having the power to reduce prices and sway others to follow,” she notes. And despite my Tufts colleague Corby Kummer trying to point out that we could see this as a good thing, her takeaway is that more market consolidation would be just fine if it lowered food prices.

The big chains are certainly heading in that direction whenever they can. Ahold Delhaize, the European behemoth that owns several regional chains, is planning to close some “underperforming” Stop & Shop supermarkets so it can invest in “strategic price reductions” for the remaining ones. Dollar stores are filling in the gaps in many places even as they, too, abandon their least-profitable locations. The race to the bottom continues apace.




4 weeks ago

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