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What’s with gouging the groceries?

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By Robert E. Beckner

As we noted last week, growth to an area such as ours never pays for itself. It brings on an increase in costs of most everything as we have seen on home mortgages, life-, health- and auto insurance, gasoline – and we must include the food we eat.

To the best of my knowledge no major food store or anyone else has yet to come forward and give us their reasons why we are seeing a price increase of sometimes as much as 20 percent on just about everything they sell – the increase is even more on some items. If you haven’t been to a grocery store lately – go see for yourself.

If you ask around you’ll hear many excuses, most of which will say “we are just passing on the price increase” or “it’s our overhead that is killing us.” Some will say “they hardly make a profit at all, so don’t blame us because the price has gone up.”

These are nothing more than excuses. While there have been increases in the growing and delivery of the products, for the most part, it’s up the entire chain from growers to the government continuing year after year to give subsidies for large farms owned by congressmen. Shipping or airlines, trains, trucks and any other form of transportation are expensive. The bottom line is built-in greed by everyone who handles what you finally pick out to buy.

If we start with the growers, who put the seed in the ground, the seed itself is costing little to nothing because the government subsidizes it. The farmers hire illegal workers for next to nothing, so their profit is always overpriced. Again, cheap labor, foreigners not Americans, pick the crop and get it ready for shipment.

The trucking companies are big time rip-off artists. They pay their non-union drivers as little as possible, all without any benefits. The drivers who own their own rigs must pay high diesel and gasoline prices because of rip-offs from the gasoline dealers, and behind them the oil companies. Yet the Democrats refuse to allow the drilling for oil off our coasts or the rich oil shale in the mountains of the Midwest due to the environmental lobby.

Congress is in partners with the oil companies to allow no oil drilling to keep the supply always short, and along with no oil refineries built in America in the last 30 years, so you add a few dollars or even pennies onto each handling or even no handling of the product and the price gets sky high by the time it reaches the customer.

Now the stores see and know of all the greed added to the product before they even get it and they say to themselves, let’s get our share while everyone else is doing it. They will point to their new store construction, pretty shelves and advertising, how help is costing so much right now, how high their taxes are, and generally the usual cost of doing business.

The list goes on and on. It’s much easier to give reasons for such high prices than it is to pin down the price lists, the before and after the last price increase. You can name any food product and they have all increased in the last year or so.

To illustrate my reasoning of why prices could be dropped and the stores would still make a profit – look at the stores still making a profit. Several sources, such as Sam’s Club are one place for reduced prices, while it is primarily a store for wholesale purchase, the public is more than welcome. The holdback for our area is that our families usually consist of two elderly people who see no reason to buy large quantities of groceries, and warehouse-type discounters are more suited for a larger family of 4, 5, 6 or more. These companies rely on quantity to hold their prices down.

Then we find “farmers markets” in the areas where usually small growers bring their food stuff to a local outdoors market once a week. The one at On Top of the World is a good example for savings. This clearly shows a lower cost to the buyers of their products than a normal grocery store.

Other sources of lower prices, where the owners make a profit from selling at a lower price, are the numerous roadside stands. We have several on State Road 200 west of I-75. Their secret to lower prices is the owner usually makes a trip to Tampa, Plant City or other wholesale markets once or twice a week and gets the best “pick of what’s just been brought in from the fields.”

Produce is kept refrigerated until put out the next day, usually in the boxes it came packed in, plus they rely on excellent service and friendly sales people. Most customers feel this is important; good merchandise, low prices and good service.

The major stores usually just get on the computer and order in the amount of what they need to sell, never seeing it before buying. By the time it is distributed, it’s usually a couple or three days before it’s put out for sale.

Look at the handling the produce or product has had and all the people with greed on their minds – but certainly not you the consumer.

Another bright spot to save a few dollars is the new market, ALDI, a few blocks east of Wal-Mart on S.W. 19th Avenue Road. There you’ll see a store with few frills or decoration, no fancy shelves or display areas, what the food item comes in is how it’s displayed. You’ll find their prices are as much as 20- to 25 percent less than the neighboring Wal-Mart that heretofore was the one usually thought to “sell for less.” Their explanation for lower prices is just less overhead cost.

Another “rip off” is the use of ethanol, usually made from corn in this country, which removes corn from food consumption to make a gasoline additive. It also reduced corn available for cattle, pigs and chickens, increasing the prices of all these items.

Ethanol isn’t really good for cars and it can be made from other sources, such as sugar cane used in Brazil, etc. The government knows all this,  yet wants to make the public think they are doing something in view of the gas shortage and high costs.

It all comes down to greed in my opinion. If they would just realize the shape our country’s economy is in right now, they could look at themselves in the mirror and take ink and pen to their prices – they very well could afford it, but have been in the habit of making a great bottom line and want to keep it at that level. And they say, “tough luck consumers.”

They all know what the easy ways are to lower their prices, but unlike both recent presidential candidates who were saying, “it’s time for a change”.

Have a good Thanksgiving and may God bless America, we need it.

Robert E. Beckner lives in Majestic Oaks with his wife, Sarah. He is a retired private investigator and insurance adjuster. He has also been a photographer and served with the Military Police in the Marine Corps.