The Price of Cheese Reaches Record Highs Due to Increased Demand During Pandemic

updated Jun 24, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Last week we looked at what groceries cost more and what groceries cost less on the retail side of things, but another piece of the price equation comes from the mercantile markets. In the matter of a few months, reports People, the price of one of the staples of American cuisine jumped 160%. If you’ve stocked up for pizza, prepared to make a casserole, or wanted to bake some Brie, you might have noticed it too: Cheese has gotten more expensive in the recent months of lockdown.

While much of the media hype has been on the skyrocketing meat prices and the outbreaks that are making it so expensive, other market factors weighed in on the dairy aisle and sent cheese prices soaring as well. Unlike meat, the fluctuation in cheese comes less from a shortage on the supply side and more from an increase on the demand side. That’s why, early on in lockdown and into April, cheese prices actually fell: Schools and restaurants stopped buying it and the industry had to go in search of new customers.

As in so many other industries, retail demand increased because people started cooking at home more, but the cheese folks also started selling to foreign markets to unload their stashes. Then, in April, as restaurants began to open back up — and even more so now — the old customers returned, in need of supply. 

In other words, everybody wants cheese, and they want it now. And that’s driving the price of cheese from its recent lows to way up. But as bad as it looks, it’s important to remember that the $1 per pound that a block of cheddar was fetching in April on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was a 20-year-low. So June’s price of $2.59 is almost 160% increase, but it’s only a 25% increase from the late January price of $1.99 and only 16% up from November’s $2.16 — still a significant increase, but not quite as mind-boggling.