Higher food, beer prices hit students in the wallet

In addition to a steady rise in tuition, students across the country and in Geneseo must now grapple with the rising cost of food and beer.

The price hike in the popular college beverage is the result of a crop shortage due to poor weather conditions that has raised the price of the two main ingredients - malted barley and hops.

According to an article published on the Web site of the WREG Memphis TV station, the price of hops, an herb that is used to flavor beer, has jumped as much as 500 percent. Such a spike, in addition to the waning value of the American dollar, has resulted in higher prices for most products.

Additionally, rising energy costs and fees for raw materials such as aluminum and glass are leading many companies to raise prices to account for production costs.

Though retailers and distributors often account for the costs, analysts expect that consumers will bear the burden of the increase. Evidence of rising prices is present even in Geneseo, where local bar owners have made adjustments to account for spikes in costs.

"Some things have gone up a quarter, some more than that," said Luke DeVelder of the Vital Spot bar. "But, people are coming to drink no matter what."

According to Mark Stutrud, president and founder of Summit Brewery in St. Paul, Minn., relief for consumers may come just in time for summer.

Most students, however, don't seem intimidated by the price surge.

"Absolutely I'll still drink," said sophomore Terry Burns. "I'll probably stick to Natty Ice and Stones, though."

"Keystone used to be a certain price, now it's more like $14 or $15 for a 30-rack," said senior Daniela Molina, who lives off-campus. "You have to ask friends for more money if you're sharing now, too."

In addition to beer, the prices of dairy, meat and other staple grocery items have been rapidly rising over the past year.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices rose an average of 4 percent in 2007, the highest increase since 1990. The department expects similar hikes in 2008.

According to an article written by Mary Ellen Harris, senior vice president of consumer affairs for Wegmans, the current prices for bread products in particular are the highest yet.

Harris acknowledged customer frustration over the rising prices, but added that price hikes are inevitable regardless of where you shop due to the sharp increase in costs from suppliers.

Wal-Mart executives, however, said they're striving to save customers a significant amount of money. The company announced on Jan. 30 that it would discount a number of products as much as 30 percent.

"We all know economic times are tough so our plan is to help with added savings throughout the year, focusing especially on what people want, when they need it," Wal-Mart Chief Merchandising Officer John Fleming said in a press release on Jan. 29.

Molina said that food shopping hasn't become more of an expense for her.

"I'm a bargain shopper; I get all the non-name brand stuff," she said.

One off-campus student said she's affected by the increase in food prices.

"I feel like the healthier the food is, the more it costs," said senior Kelly Ernst. "I maintain a shopping budget so as prices go up I have to change what I buy; it's hard to stay balanced. Fresh veggie prices go up, ramen does not."

Senior Abby Cubitt doesn't think that the price increase will deter her or her fellow students from indulging.

"An increase in the price of food and beer in a college town will never go unnoticed, but I don't think it's going to decrease weekly 30-rack sales or keep [students from] visiting the Idle," she said. "It might even be an opportunity for all the local bars to increase patronage with nightly specials."