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The Currency newsletter - issue 18

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06.29.2023

Restaurant inflation is changing our appetites. 

People are hungry for relief (or a reliable bang for their buck), so an American staple has returned to the food scene: All-you-can-eat buffets are back*! Tapping into nostalgia, unique culinary offerings, and the ability to make even modest spenders feel like royalty, buffets are delivering on consumers’ cravings for a great deal. Popular chain Golden Corral reports sales are up 20% as customers embrace limitless servings for under $20.  

For those with a sweet tooth, some say money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy two scoops of your favorite ice cream, and during the summer, isn’t that pretty much the same thing?  

— The Editors  

Breakfast with a cherry on top: Ice cream as your first meal of the day? Häagen-Dazs, who spooned over $785 million in sales last year* says, “Yes please!” with a new line of “dairy snacks” hitting the yogurt aisle this summer. The fermentation process for its Cultured Crème* takes “up to five times longer” than traditional yogurt to create the creamy texture of ice cream for breakfast. 

Winner winner, chicken dinner: What came first, the chicken, the egg or ... the cells? The USDA just gave two companies the green light to start selling lab-grown chicken products. The cell-based meat is developed from animal cells and amino acids, and grown in massive bioreactors (CNN says the producton facility kind of looks like a brewery*). While lab-grown chicken won’t be available at the grocery store anytime soon, companies are aiming to sell it to consumers for the same price as traditional chicken, or cheaper.  

A squeeze on orange juice: Citrus lovers may find the price of oranges and orange juice a bit tart. Due to bad weather events, including a freeze and a hurricane that ruined crops, Florida’s orange production this year dropped by 60%*. The consequence of the smallest citrus crop in nearly a century is passing to consumers: A gallon of OJ has climbed above $10*, rising 17.5% since the beginning of 2022.  

Spill the (hard) tea: It’s five o’clock somewhere, served with a side of nostalgia for ’90s babies. For those looking to sip responsibly by the pool, AriZona Beverages is serving up an adults-only version of its iced tea: AriZona Hard*, a malt-spiked drink available in Lemon, Peach, and Green Tea. Legacy players are getting in on the buzzy beverage boom, as beer (which includes malt beverages like the new hard teas) generated $48.3 billion in sales*  and accounted for nearly 54% of all retail spending in the alcoholic beverage market last year.  

What’s trending: a dollar and a dream  

According to Empower Personal Dashboard™ data, average spend at the grocery store is up 45.7% since January 2020. Despite inflation cooling off slightly in May*, the slowest pace in more than two years, grocery prices are still much higher than they were before the pandemic. 

Attention, shoppers: This may be why high-earners and discount customers alike are flocking to retailers like Dollar General, which recently rolled out an updated fresh-produce section in nearly 3,900 stores. The Wall Street Journal reports a 4% average increase in dollar-store visits* this year among those making more than $100,000.  

Social media is helping make dollar and discount stores trend. Videos tagged #dollartree have a cool 7.6 billion views on TikTok, where influencers trade tips and their best dupe finds. If you’re looking for more ways to lower your bill at the grocery store, check out our smart shopping tips at The Currency™

Wherever you shop, relief is on the shelves for some staples: Dairy prices fell 0.7% thanks to a 2% decline in milk prices*, the biggest drop in that category since February 2015. Fruit and vegetable prices fell 0.5%, and prices for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs dipped 0.3%. 

Delivering minimum wage to NYC food app drivers  

NYC drivers who deliver for app-based restaurant platforms will see their hourly wages rise to at least $17.96 per hour plus tips* starting in July and will increase to $19.96 an hour by April 1, 2025. The city recently passed a law establishing a minimum wage for anyone who drives or bikes food orders throughout the five boroughs.  

Food delivery soared in popularity during the height of the pandemic; in 2019, delivery accounted for about 7% of total U.S. restaurant sales*, according to CNN. After a spike in 2020, it settled at nearly 9% in 2021, still higher than pre-COVID levels.  

The wage increase comes at a time when prices for food at restaurants continues to climb, rising 0.5% over the month*. Average user spend at restaurants has increased a whopping 127.8% since the start of the pandemic, and 24.6% as compared to this time last year, according to Empower Personal Dashboard™ data.  

Our readers are feeling that heat, as nearly half (47%) of those polled last week say they’re spending $30 or less on a meal out this summer. In close second, 43% say they’d be down to dish out $50-$100, and only 5% say they plan to go big by paying a bill of $100 each.   

We all scream for ice cream  

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, ice cream brand Van Leeuwen is hiring a Lead Ice Cream Taster (LICT)* to work with the company’s Research & Development Team. 

As part of the dreamy gig, the winner will tour its Brooklyn factory and scoop shops (they have flavors like pizza, ranch, hot honey, and mustard); discuss potential new varieties; and most importantly, eat a lot of ice cream (yum). 

But what’s a lot of ice cream? In 2022, the U.S. churned out almost 1.4 billion gallons of ice cream. The industry has a $13.1 billion impact on the U.S. economy*, supports 28,800 direct jobs, and generates $1.8 billion in direct wages, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.  

The average American consumes roughly 20 pounds of ice cream each year — that’s about four gallons, if you’re counting (we’re not, though). If you’re saying, “challenge accepted,” make sure you submit your video entry to Van Leeuwen by July 6 to be considered for the LICT role. And yes, this time you can mention your love of extra sprinkles on your resume.  

What's your flavor? 🍨

We can’t talk ice cream without finding out which classic scoop melts our readers’ hearts. 

  • Chocolate 
  • Vanilla
  • Coffee
  • Cookies N' cream
  • Cookie dough
  • Mint chocolate chip

Take this week's poll to vote for your favorite flavor now.

As of June 27 2023, EAG holds shares of GIS and DS in advisory client accounts. 
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The Currency editors

Staff contributors

The CurrencyTM, a publication from Empower, covers the latest financial news and views shaping how we live, work, and play. Our team of writers, editors, and contributors are here to keep you current on ways to play, save, and invest for life.

Disclaimer

The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. No part of this blog, nor the links contained therein is a solicitation or offer to sell securities. Compensation for freelance contributions not to exceed $1,250. Third-party data is obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, Empower cannot guarantee the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or fitness of this data for any particular purpose. Third-party links are provided solely as a convenience and do not imply an affiliation, endorsement or approval by Empower of the contents on such third-party websites. 

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