With "Black Friday" now just a week away, the anxiety of both retailers and consumers is a palpable as the "fiscal cliff" itself.
On one hand, managers of big-box stores and small-town shops are frantically retagging everything from flat screens and smart phones to potpourri and goldfish. Whoever said "discount" was a naughty word?
On the other hand, millions of diehard shoppers are engaged in a regime of basic training fierce enough to make a Marine cry: days of total sleep deprivation, loading-dock-to-check-out wind sprints administered by hungry pit bulls, repeated drills in hand-to-hand combat drills while carrying major appliances.
In general, the traditional launching of the Christmas shopping season promises to be more chaotic and cutthroat than ever before.
Yet frugal carnivores waiting to score big on Black Friday should probably brace themselves for major disappointment, especially when it comes to steak and hamburger. Aside from the typical volume and packaged discounts that festoon certain mail order catalogues, I think it's clear that retailers drunk with late-year price slashing will quickly sober up once they reach the meat case.
Why? Simply because the record-setting reality of the current cost of wholesale beef, together with the high odds of even higher costs through the year ahead, means that short-term featuring with significantly reduced prices constitutes a dangerous and even counterproductive retail strategy.
According to new meat spread data released by the ERS earlier this week, the average retail price for choice beef in October was $5.031, 9 cents higher than the previous month and the priciest level seen since last March. Furthermore, the average price of all beef last month averaged $4.772, a new all-time high (not adjusting for inflation).
Only meat department managers completely asleep at the wheel are insensitive to beef's tightening and substantially more expensive future. Beef's next major role in a "Black Friday" production may have to be postponed until significant herd expansion is well down the tracks.
Let none of this discourages anyone from throwing a box of delicious sirloins under the tree or stuffing stockings with a few tubes of 90% trim. Personally, I can't think of a better Christmas shopping list.
Just be jolly enough to know that decking the halls with boughs of beefsteak will more than likely cost you full retail.
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