Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
Look inside your shopping cart for the impact of the world’s ebbs and flows: It’s in the wood pulp in your paper towels, the oil in your frozen food container, the fruits and vegetables that survived floods or droughts. .
So a shopping basket at a Walmart in Georgia offers a view of the US economy and the inflation that has roiled it. It’s a bit of a pain if you’re buying aluminum foil or eggs. But it’s not too bad if you want slaw or wonder bread. And you may even find a relative bargain on shrimp.
On NPR’s shopping cart of several dozen items, prices are up 23% on average since mid-2019. That’s when NPR last visited this Walmart, in Liberty County, just south of Savannah. At the time, we tracked how the Trump administration’s trade war with China was affecting prices.
Since then, the pandemic has struck. Global supply chains it became chaotic and fuel prices swung wildly. Tea great resignation pushed American employers to raise long-stagnant wages. From Russia invasion of ukraine disrupted food and energy trade. Cue: historical inflation.
We went back to the same Walmart in December to see how much prices have changed at America’s most popular supermarket. There, we find that some items on the shelves have also changed, and some surprises.
This is what we learned. (Prayed skip the review to see NPR’s full shopping cart.)
The contraction is real
Shrinkflation is “inflation devious cousinto quote NPR’s Planet Money. It allows higher prices to be hidden in plain sight (minus chips in a bag or tissues in a box) without scaring off shoppers.
It’s also why some experts recommend that buyers look at unit price (per ounce or per item in a package) to gauge price changes, which is what NPR did for this story.
Tide detergent and Dove soap stood out as prime examples of contractionary inflation in the NPR basket. The Tide pitcher that held 100 fluid ounces in 2019 now holds 92 ounces, but costs more. Dove soap bars were down a quarter-ounce and also got more expensive.
Procter & Gamble, which makes Tide, told NPR that retailers have the final say on what pack size to offer and at what price. The company It said it “takes a holistic view of pricing” that takes into account “many factors, including costs, the value of our brands and local market dynamics.”
In fact, Procter & Gamble will soon be raising prices again. Since February, the company new hiking maps for Tide and other brands, citing higher costs incurred for transportation, raw materials, and fluctuations in currency exchange rates.
Pigeon manufacturer Unilever and Walmart he did not respond to questions from NPR.
For the most part, prices just increased
Walmart places special emphasis on keeping prices as stable as possible and uses its scale to pressure suppliers for the lowest priced offers. Still, inflation is clearly visible in the store.
Many factors are at play. The cost of a Paper Mate mechanical pencil, for example, likely skyrocketed because we compared December’s price to back-to-school season in August. Newell, the maker of Paper Mate, said his audits show retail prices increased about 9% compared to pre-pandemic levels, “priced to cover the inflationary costs we receive from material suppliers.” cousins”.
Supply chain issues show up in many hallways. Wood and wood pulp for paper products were hit by high pandemic demand and the war in Ukraine. Severe droughts caused the worst oat crop in North America in more than a century. bird flu devastated laying hens. Aluminum imports—for aluminum foil, cans, and other products—have faced a roller coaster of tariffs.
And what about the original reason for our visit to this Georgia Walmart? Did the lingering impacts of Donald Trump’s trade war with China add to the price increases?
“I think tariffs are probably part of that. It’s hard to say exactly how much,” said Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
President Biden largely maintained Trump’s taxes on Chinese imports. But Chinese exporters generally did not respond by lowering prices, meaning American companies shouldered much of the cost of the trade war. Just before the pandemic, economists found this produced only “a minor increase” in retail prices, although the researchers had said there could be more over time.
Surprise! Some things stayed the same or even got cheaper
Electronics were among last year’s anti-inflation highlights, as supply chain delays solved and stores were found overstocked. In fact, TVs often tend to get cheaper every year, and the Vizio TV on our shopping list is no exception.
Walmart has also stopped selling some big-brand items, such as the Stanley screwdriver, in favor of private labels that tend to be more profitable. This can give a store more leeway to attract shoppers with lower prices, while still making money.
In addition, retailers have the authority to set prices on individual items. Former Walmart price officials say a company buyer or store manager might, for example, suppress a price increase on a popular item and choose to spread that cost increase across other products.
This may be part of the story of Procter & Gamble’s Head & Shoulders shampoo, which has kept its price stable since 2019, or Argo Corn Starch, which has become cheaper. Argo’s parent company, ACH, said the brand had not lowered the price. Walmart had no comment.
Despite everything, the origin of things has not changed
Virtually all of the products in NPR’s basket list the same locations as their places of origin as they did in 2019. That may seem against the striking backdrop of the reshuffling of the trade war with China followed by the disruption of the supply chain during the pandemic.
One notable exception in NPR’s cart was the Vizio TV, which came from China in 2019. Now it’s coming from Vietnam. California-based Vizio has long listed Vietnam as one of its manufacturing hubs. The company did not respond to questions from NPR.
Trade economists say new products that would not be on NPR’s shopping list are more likely to come from new places, particularly outside of China. But for existing manufacturing, the tariffs seemed to fluctuate for so long, given Trump’s regular political swings and the Biden campaign against him, that companies likely hesitated to make drastic and expensive changes. And then the supply chain chaos of the pandemic saved some countries, which in the end made big manufacturing moves less attractive.