Record Heat Causes Peanut Butter Prices to Skyrocket

First, we heard that climate change could decimate the chocolate industry. Now it’s peanut butter. Sending lovers of Reese’s Pieces into a panic, the recent spell of record-setting heat has caused “startling price increases,” according to a piece in the Wall Street Journal:

Wholesale prices for big-selling Jif are going up 30 percent starting in November, while Peter Pan will raise prices as much as 24 percent in a couple of weeks. Unilever would not comment on its pricing plans, but a spokesman for Wegmans Food Markets said wholesale prices for all brands it carries, including Skippy, are 30 percent to 35 percent higher than a year ago.

Kraft Foods Inc., which launched Planters peanut butter in June, is raising prices 40 percent on Oct. 31, a spokeswoman said.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates the current spot price for a ton of unprocessed Runner peanuts, commonly used in peanut butter, at about $1,150 a ton, which is up from about $450 a year ago. A pound of shelled peanuts, meanwhile, would fetch $1.20 currently, one broker said, up from 52 cents a year ago.

Chalk up peanut butter as yet another potential causality of climate change. With heat waves getting worse, and the historic Texas drought expected to last well into the decade, the quality of the peanut crop may continue to get worse:

Scorching heat, especially in Texas, singed many peanut plants as they developed, leaving more peanuts destined to be processed into oil, rather than the edible quality that is shelled and turned into peanut butter. Only 38 percent of the US peanut crop was rated good or excellent last month, down from about 60 percent a year ago.

As with any crop, the challenges facing peanut farmers begin and end with the weather. In Georgia, the leading US peanut producing state, the planting season was the driest in memory for John Harrell, 56, a sixth-generation peanut farmer.

“I don’t remember a year that you didn’t catch a shower or had so little moisture in the ground to get the seed up,” said Harrell.

The dismal peanut yields this mean consumers will soon be paying more for peanut butter products at the supermarket — adding to the list of gastro-delights like French wine, Italian pasta and German beer that are threatened by a changing climate.

By Stephen Lacey

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