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Prices for shrimp have jumped to a 14-year high in recent months, spurred by a disease that’s ravaging the crustacean’s population. At Noodles & Co., a chain with locations across the country, it costs 29 percent more to add the shellfish to pastas this year, and shrimp-heavy dishes at places like the Cheesecake Factory Inc. are going up as well.
Restaurant chains, already struggling with shaky U.S. consumer confidence, are taking a profit hit as prices climb. Even worse, the surge is happening during the season of Lent, when eateries rely on seafood to lure Christian diners who abstain from chicken, beef and pork on certain days.
“It’s coming at a tough time for the industry,” said Andrew Barish, a San Francisco-based analyst at Jefferies LLC. “With the Lenten season, what you’ll see out there is a lot of promotions with seafood, and usually shrimp is a big part of that.”
In March, shrimp prices jumped 61 percent from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The climb is mainly due to a bacterial disease known as early mortality syndrome. While the ailment has no effect on humans, it’s wreaking havoc on young shrimp farmed in Southeast Asia, shrinking supplies.
James Johnson, a Jewel-Osco supermarket shopper in Chicago, has noticed the price increase. He’s been cutting back on one of his favorite dishes -- shrimp and potato soup -- because of the cost.
“I haven’t made it in a while,” the 29-year-old said. “Shrimp looks expensive.”
At Noodles, it now costs $3.34 to add the shellfish to a meal of pasta or pad thai, compared with $2.59 last year.
“We still want to at least offer it as choice,” Chief Executive Officer Kevin Reddy said in a phone interview. “As soon as the costs begin to normalize, we’ll return to the regular price.”
Ah yes, because retailers are always so willing to lower costs...
So for all those whose sustenance includes iPads and LCD TVs, or heaven forbid the pink slime known as fast food - you are in luck: the BLS' hedonic adjustments mean the rate of price increase in your daily consumption has rarely been lower. For everyone else: our condolences.