The Biden administration is ramping up pressure on food retailers to lower prices, asserting that grocers have posted outsize profits at the expense of shoppers, according to media reports.
A White House analysis shows that grocers have maintained the higher profit margins they began generating following the onset of the pandemic at the same time as other types of retailers, like apparel stores, have reported lower margins, The New York Times reported last Thursday.
The analysis, conducted by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, indicates that the food and beverage sector is generating profit margins that are approximately 2 percentage points above where they were in early 2020, bringing them to a 20-year high, according to The Times. The council “interprets economic developments and formulates and recommends economic policies that advance the interests of the American people,” according to the White House’s website.
The administration is using the Council of Economic Advisers’ findings to make the case that grocers have not lowered prices for shoppers even as their own costs declined, Reuters reported last Friday.
“Our message is a very clear one that the president has and will continue to lean into, which is, if you're a company whose input prices have come down and you’re not passing those savings along to the consumer, he will call you out,” Jared Bernstein, chair of the council, said, according to Reuters.
Grocery inflation moved down steadily over the past year after hitting a 40-year high in September 2022, settling in December 2023 at a 1.3% annual rate. Overall inflation, meanwhile, has dropped from 9.1% in June 2022 to 3.4% last December.
In a speech at a political event in South Carolina last month, Biden said that while the government had been able to push inflation down, prices remain too high — and he vowed to take action.
“[F]or all we’ve done to bring prices down, there are still too many corporations in America ripping people off: price gouging, junk fees, greedflation, shrinkflation,” Biden said. “Well, it’s going to stop. Americans, we’re tired of being played for suckers. And that’s why we’re going to keep these guys — keep on them and get the prices down.”