Ham will be the centerpiece of many Easter dinners this weekend, but the cost of that traditional main dish may make it harder for families to live high on the hog.
Ham prices have been higher than usual for the past two years because the cost of pig feed has gone up, and some major pork producers are spending millions to convert barns as they phase out cramped cages used to confine pregnant sows.
Ham has been selling wholesale for 75 to 80 cents per pound this spring, which is in line with last year's prices but well above the 55 cents per pound average for the previous five years.
A recent check at one Omaha-area supermarket found boneless Hormel hams selling for $2.20 per pound; bone-in hams are slightly cheaper. With sales offered this week to attract Easter shoppers, it was possible to get a bone-in ham for as little as $1.28 per pound.
Paula Vejvoda of Omaha said she's had her Easter ham in the freezer since Christmas, when she bought it on sale so she could economically feed her two daughters, two exchange students and husband.
"You really have to watch the ads and see who has the best price," Vejvoda said.
That's good advice for families, but hard to do when you're trying to provide ham for hundreds of people at a food pantry. Joyce Lonergan, pantry director at St. Anthony's Shrine in downtown Boston, said she tries to arrange to have a special meal at each holiday to help boost people's spirits, but the prospect seemed daunting. With added donations and some breaks from suppliers, St. Anthony's was able to secure ham steaks and chickens for the holiday.
Behind the rise:
Going whole hog • Ham prices have been unusually high since 2010 because the cost of pig feed has gone up.
Big bucks • Ham at wholesale has cost 75 cents to 80 cents per pound this spring, about the same as last year but higher than the 55 cents per pound average for the previous five years.
Cramped cages • Pork producers also are switching to more open pens amid pressure from consumers and animal-welfare advocates, who believe smaller cages are cruel.