Like most products on the store shelves these days, peanut butter is facing a sharp upswing in regards to pricing.  A bad summer crop has seen prices for peanut butter rise already, and more price increases are expected.

Peanut butter prices have gone up 30 percent or more because hot weather in states like Texas and Georgia hurt this year’s peanut crop and because some farmers switched to more profitable crops, such as corn and cotton.

While some American families are taking the rising cost of peanut butter with a grumbled grain of salt, the increases have been brutal on charitable food banks.

The increase in peanut butter prices and the cost of food overall has been a blow to family budgets, and hunger-relief groups that say they’re serving more clients even as the poor economy has made it harder to get donations.

Peanut butter is the workhorse of food banks and with prices on an increase, they worries the officials that run those agencies.

Terry Shannon, president of the Phoenix-based St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, one of the country’s largest food banks, said it increased the amount of food it distributes annually by about 75 percent over the past three years, to 74 million pounds. Its cash donations have kept pace with the need so far, but Shannon said he worries the alliance won’t raise enough money during the holiday season to keep including peanut butter in each of the 25,000 emergency food boxes it distributes each month.

Both the kid-friendly popularity of peanut butter and the usual economical costs make it a staple for food banks.

Peanut butter is popular at such agencies because it’s a kid-friendly source of protein that has a long shelf life, meets most religious restrictions on food and doesn’t require special storage or cooking. Lately, it’s sometimes absent from shelves at places like the Broad Street Food Pantry near downtown Columbus, which started limiting the largest families to two jars instead of three if it’s available.

Some agencies have danced to find alternative solutions.

But with a jar of peanut butter running about $3 or $4 at grocery stores, food banks say they expect to receive fewer donations, buy less, pay more for what they do buy and consider offering protein alternatives such as canned tuna or chicken, which might be comparatively good deals.

Food banks get cheaper prices by buying in bulk, but the higher cost is still noticeable. The Cleveland Foodbank in Northeast Ohio bought a truckload of peanut butter in June for $12.95 per dozen 18-ounce jars, but that rose to $18.31 by October. If peanut butter becomes nearly as expensive as some meats, the latter might provide more nutrition at nearly the same cost, food bank president and CEO Anne Goodman said.


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