TAMPA, Fla. — Costs are going up, and it's anyone's guess how long it lasts and if they will ever go back down. We talked to economists and family-owned businesses about coping with the changes and what consumers need to know this upcoming holiday season.
We met with the owners of three different mom-and-pop businesses. They are all doing whatever it takes to handle supply chain issues, rising prices and shortages. We learned that putting customers first and thinking outside the box keeps their businesses going through one of the most challenging times in recent history.
"It is the worst change I have ever seen," Hani Shoubaki, the owner of Interbay Meat Market in South Tampa, said. "Never been that bad, never seen it this bad."
Shoubaki runs the market with his wife and kids. He has some employees that have worked there since they sold their first piece of meat back in 1985. A lot has changed since, from shortages to some of the most dramatic price increases in decades.
"Well, some of the stuff went up by 50%. Some by 100%. I'm giving an example, chicken wings we used to buy for $1.75, $1.50, not too long ago, all the sudden is almost $4 a pound wholesale," Shoubaki said. "Today, I ordered a case of lettuce; it cost me $80 for a case of lettuce. Back in the day, we used to buy for $10 bucks. Before the pandemic was maybe 25 to 30 bucks, it's just a perfect storm that everything skyrocket."
The market sells everything from high-quality meats to hot meals. They are famous for their specialty sandwiches, from roast pork to authentic Cuban. And customers told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska they wouldn't shop anywhere else.
"There's Jarvis, my friend. How are you doing, Jarvis? He was my first customer in the new store," Shoubaki said.
"Wonderful! Blessed God is good with this gentleman," Jarvis Glover said. "Every time I come, I always say how it is a blessing to be in this place cause you feel the love when you walk in the door."
Shoubaki is doing everything he can to keep the shelves stocked.
"Well, as long as long as the supplier they have it, we will go and get," Shoubaki said.
"How far have you driven for supplies?" Paluska asked.
"Oh, we've driven about 60 to 70 miles you to the wholesalers, you got to get refrigerated trucks and stuff. We had to rent some, and right, you have to keep the food at a certain temperature. So it can be very costly. But we got to keep it going. You know, we cannot just shut down. I have employees. I have my family. They make a living here, so we cannot stop."
FRED'S MARKET RESTAURANT
At Fred's Market Restaurant in Plant City, 94-year-old Evelyn Johnson makes the rounds greeting regulars. In 1954, Johnson's family recipes launched the southern buffet, going strong ever since. Despite rising prices, Chelsea Wilkerson, the Director of Marketing, says their proximity, right next to the State Farmer's Market, gives them access to fresh, locally grown produce, keeping costs down.
"We do not want the cost to be a burden to our guests," Wilkerson said. "And, we have guests that have been coming to our restaurants forever and ever and ever. And so, we do not want that, you know, price increase to be something that that they see," Wilkerson said.
Fred's Market will be open on Thanksgiving. With rising food prices, Wilkerson said going to their buffet might be cheaper than buying everything at the grocery store.
"Our market table will be full with southern favorites like fried chicken and pulled pork, but we are also going to have that turkey and gravy, collared greens and sweet potatoes, etc., on Thanksgiving Day," Wilkerson said. "And, we think it is so important that families truly spend time together during the holidays. And so if we can help ease the process for you of cooking a meal, we will be glad to. And, it's so cost-effective."
PLANT CITY FARM AND FLEA MARKET
Just down the road from Fred's Market is the Plant City Farm and Flea Market. We happened to visit the bustling wholesale produce market on the owner, Ferris Waller's 83rd birthday. Just another day for Waller, he works hard daily, driving a front-end loader and cruising in his golf cart to check on vendors.
"We have not experienced a great deal in shortages. It's more difficult to get trucks in here. There is a problem with trucking," Waller said. "And we get anywhere from 10 to 15. Tractor-trailers come in every day. And even more of the smaller trucks, hauling it in from the local farms."
Waller started the market in 1979 with a half-acre and seven vendors. Today he has nearly 50 acres and more than 500 vendors. Some he says pulling in $10-million a year selling fruits and vegetables.
But a lot of people, they'll come from Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers, they come up here, 812 a group of ladies, for example, come in once every week, they buy a case of everything, go home and then split it up among themselves.
"Well, it just it's a crazy world we're living in. And I'm not sure who's in charge could be nobody," Waller laughed when we asked him about the soaring prices.
"Everybody seems to they're all scrambling to make a living," Waller said.
Even though wholesale costs are up, he said buying in bulk is cheaper than going to the store. Lately, he's seen some savvy customers come in.
"But a lot of people they'll come from Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers, they come up here. A group of ladies, for example, come in once every week, they buy a case of everything, go home and then split it up among themselves," Waller said.
Container ships stranded at sea or ports across the country are wreaking havoc on price hikes and shortages. Ports in California struggle with loading and unloading containers due to various factors, including labor issues. Michael Rubin, the President, and CEO of the Florida Ports Council, said our state is positioned to benefit.
"What did we do right to not see these backups with our ships coming in?" Paluska asked.
"Well, we've invested," Rubin said. "There's been a growth in that over several years, we've gotten a number of terminal operators and lines that are coming in. The East Coast ports are beginning to deepen to 50 feet. Miami's there, Jacksonville is almost there. Everglades is in the process."
Rubin said emerging markets and ships bypassing California and heading for Florida are on the rise. For example, container ships are now getting rerouted through the Panama Canal from Asian markets. And, new routes are coming in from Europe and the Mexican market.
"The supply chain has disaster has afforded us an opportunity to demonstrate what we've done over the last few years, and while you can bring it into Florida, and we think that that's probably not going away," Rubin said. "So, we think that we provide an opportunity for those carriers, those shipping lines, those beneficial cargo owners to look at Florida as an opportunity."
Port Tampa said year over year, they have increased the number of containers coming in by 30%.
"I think we can easily handle, you know, another three to five million-plus containers a year and our Florida ports. And you know, that's at current capacity, with some of the investments we're looking at making, that number could even go up," Rubin said.
"Florida will benefit from getting new cargo ships coming in? Paluska asked.
"Correct. If you look at these jobs, these blue-collar jobs around our ports, whether it's on the port itself or warehousing or, you know, vessel, individuals, it's it, they are significant," Rubin said. "You know, I think the average I think last time we looked the average was over $50,000 to $55,000 a year for these blue-collar jobs out there. And if you look at the crane operators and others, those those those those those operators are earning and The you know, the six figures if not more."
PANDEMIC INDUCED INFLATION
The consumer price index is the highest in more than 30 years, coming in at 6.2%.
"Do you think that we've plateaued on the increase in prices, and then we're going to start to come down during the holidays," Paluska asked Seckin Ozkul, the Director of Supply Chain Innovation Lab at the USF Muma College of Business.
"They are projecting that oil prices are going to get worse before it gets better. And I do understand again, it's like a bullwhip effect that we haven't seen the full end of the bullwhip yet," Ozkul said. "So again, it comes back to supply and demand; where is the demand?
Prices at the pump are skyrocketing. Economists we talked to expect high prices to stay with us through Summer 2022.
"When we have these big changes year over year in production, it's felt for many years. So one thing that we've seen is that last year's slowdown in production means that we have less frozen meat in cold storage," Veronica Nigh, Senior Economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said. "
Nigh continued, "So, when we look at total meat available, we look at fresh and frozen net total availability. So you're still seeing those impacts. And we'll likely see those impacts for probably another year as we're getting those production systems back online as they have been, but it takes a while to get the total supply built back up."
Nigh said shopping smart, buying local, and not passing on deals might be your best bet in the short term.
"So, certainly if you had the opportunity to buy your meat products earlier, you might avoid that run at the grocery store where everybody else is there than looking at the last minute," Nigh said.