Snack superstars of Super Bowl LVI will take bigger bite of Big Game budgets

As the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams prepare to do battle in their upcoming Super Bowl LVI matchup, the food and snack superstars of most Big Game menus are set to take a bigger bite out of sports fans’ budgets this time around.

Thanks to ongoing, record-high U.S. inflation, the prices of most consumer goods have been hitting levels not seen for decades. And that’s particularly true for the cost of fresh food and grocery items, including many of the classic must-have items for the annual NFL championship event.

In a new analysis, economists from Wells Fargo estimate the typical Super Bowl menu will run 8%-14% higher this year depending on menus. The report noted numerous factors are contributing to the rising costs of most grocery items, though a few food categories have been more price-stable than others.

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Among the still-reasonably-priced options out there is the humble potato, which has mostly resisted the surging price pressures of late with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting in January that potato chip prices are up only 1% over the same time last year.

And what good is a chip without something to dip it in?

Guacamole is ready to snag a price-conscious place on Super Bowl buffets thanks to avocados seeing only about a 1% cost bump over last year. Wells Fargo analysts noted most avocados source from farms in Mexico and South America, where producers have been able to expand production and find efficiencies to keep wholesale costs relatively stable.

Now one of the most popular U.S. condiments, salsa is another BFF of salty dip-ables in general and Super Bowl gatherings in specific, but it has, alas, not been immune to the grocery price surge. While the base ingredients of chilis and tomatoes have not been the cause of salsa’s 6% price increase in the last year, the Wells Fargo report found increased costs related to labor, packaging and shipping are to blame.

There may be 56 good reasons to feature vegetables on your Super Bowl LVI party favors list but the best one may be that they’re simply a super bargain this year. Carrots, celery and tomatoes, depending on which form you buy them in, are all essentially the same price they were last year. Wells Fargo’s foodie economists suggest buying them whole and in bulk and prepping them at home to save even more.

Like any good coach, home cooks should have a flexible food game plan at the ready when it comes to Super Bowl weekend, and some of the trickiest X’s and O’s this year will be about which game day proteins will make it to the table. That, thanks to meats and seafoods having been hit hardest with cost increases over the past year.

The Wells Fargo report points to multiple issues at play when it comes to pricey proteins that include a U.S. beef industry largely controlled by a mere handful of processors, higher feed costs for all animals due to corn and soybean prices spiking close to 100% over the last couple of years, as well as COVID-19’s impact on labor at processing plants and, of course, a global supply-chain that remains in disarray.

Like a blind-side tackle, there is only pain to be had when it comes to shelling out for big game chicken wings this year. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data cited in the Wells Fargo report, prepared chicken wings are up 14% to 26% (bone-in and boneless, respectively). And, individually quick frozen chickens are up 26%. 

If the premium poultry appendages push you to reach deeper into the potential Super Bowl menu roster, beef won’t be offering much relief either at the moment.

Chef Stephen Lott adds maple bacon breakfast sausages to a display case at Beltex Meats in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Bureau of Labor data shows USDA choice sirloin up 23% over Super Bowl LV prices, currently retailing for around $11.06 per pound versus $8.98 a year ago. And ground beef isn’t faring much better, up 17% this year.

However, waiting patiently on the waiver wire and ready for the call are pork chops and cocktail wieners, each of which is up only 7% over last year. Perhaps this is the year the “other white meat” features on Super Bowl Sunday?

Salt Lake specialty butcher shop Beltex Meats is getting set for a busy week in the run-up to the Super Bowl and Beltex head butcher Philip Grubisa said the elevated prices of meat and poultry are simply a market reality right now.

“Everything is up this year over last and costs have been going up incrementally almost every week,” Grubisa said. “We’re in a little bit different space than grocery stores because we source from small farms and ranches.”

Grubisa said even though Beltex is a small, specialty shop its costs are still impacted by current issues facing the national commercial meat industries.

“Commercial farming impacts everything and processing has been backed up pretty much since 2020,” Grubisa said. “Getting a live animal to slaughter is just costing a lot more right now, and the whole industry has been rocked by it.”

Caroline Laine shops with her children, Nico Laine and Alice Laine, as retail associate Ian Roth helps them at Beltex Meats in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

While prices are up, Grubisa said Beltex is ready to fill orders for Super Bowl gatherings and will have plenty of fresh beef and pork cuts on hand, as well as their in-house sausages and charcuterie selections. One specialty item that Grubisa said Beltex only offers ahead of Super Bowl weekend is brined and smoked chicken wings that are ready for home grills and ovens.

Of course, cheering on your favorite team and plowing through game day grub is thirsty work but many favorite cold beverages, unfortunately, have felt the chill of inflationary pressures.

Soda pop in 2-liter bottles is up 12% over last year according to the Wells Fargo report and, while the big jugs are still a better buy, soda in cans will cost 6% more than this time in 2020.

Juice prices have seen even bigger price hikes in the past year with the USDA reporting that orange juice prices rose by over 13% in 2021 and bumped up another 5%-plus just in January.

Adult beverages are faring somewhat better with beer and wine up 4% and 3%, respectively, since the last NFL championship game.

While assembling an all-star Super Bowl Sunday spread this year will definitely come with a bigger price tag than previous editions, Karol Flynn with the Wells Fargo Food and Agribusiness industry group noted the real win comes when friends and family gather to prepare and enjoy their favorite foods and beverages for the annual NFL showdown.

“Cooking at home is always the most economical option,” Flynn said in a Deseret News interview. “We also found cooking at home, even during pandemic times, is a memory maker for families. Even with the sticker shock that comes with inflationary times, it’s an opportunity to try new recipes and try new products and have fun being flexible and creative.”

Chef Stephen Lott makes lasagna using pasta and ricotta cheese made in-house at Beltex Meats in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News