It’s a busy season for supermarkets and restaurants on the Island and some supply chain shortages brought on by the pandemic are preventing them from offering certain products or causing them to charge more than customers are used to paying.
On top of that, a worker shortage has some businesses paying their staff more, and increased energy costs and other expenses are cutting profit margins thin. “Old school normal doesn’t seem to exist anymore,” Steve Bernier, owner of Cronig’s Markets in Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury, said.
Bernier explained that the “issue on pricing depends on supply and demand and with the pandemic, the meat/poultry industry has been hit.”
Supermarkets aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. Restaurants on the Island have seen an uptick in business even as their profit margins have been reduced.
When restaurateurs such as Doug Abdelnour, owner of Nancy’s and Nomans, price their menus at the beginning of the season, they don’t factor in the staff or line cooks but are pricing their menu off of food prices. As the hourly wages go up, Abdelnour said, “it all comes off whatever profit you hope to make… Profitability is way down even though it appears to be very busy. The staffing problem contributes to making things a lot more expensive on all levels… even our suppliers don’t have enough delivery drivers,” Abdelnour said. “Labor shortages are driving up the prices of food.”
Over the last year, the cost of many of his essential products have increased. “Wings have gone up 80%, lobster is up 59% and fry oil is up 178%,” he said. “Our prices only increased by 10% but our product cost has increased by 60-75% for any lobster item.”
If food prices are going up, restaurants can’t increase all their menu items to the exact same percentage as their food cost, or else they would lose their businesses.
The fish industry is also affected. Rather than the Big Mac index, we could look at the Lobster Roll index on Martha’s Vineyard. Lobster roll prices have gone way up this summer and are being served at around $30 in restaurants (Noman’s: $26; Lookout Tavern: $32.95; Oceanview: $28; Oyster Bar: $28). “The water gets warmer, fishermen have to go out farther and farther to find the cold and deeper cold water and that costs them more money and in turn, costs us more money,” Abdelnour explained.
The spike in lobster prices is taking its toll on a local charity, as well. Grace Episcopal Church is known for its Friday evening lobster rolls in the summer and has been raising money for charitable causes for over 50 years. Because the price of lobster is going through the roof, volunteers feel they are making little or no money for charity. Bo Pickard, one of Grace Church’s lobster roll volunteers, explained why they had to raise the price of lobster rolls. “We are trying to keep our lobster rolls at a reasonable price but with the price of the lobster meat going up, we can’t. I would have loved to keep it at $20 but we had to go up to $25.” Next week, Grace Church will have to raise the price of its lobster rolls to $30 each because the price of lobster meat keeps going up.
“The days where a lobster roll cost $12 seem far behind,” Pickard said.