Sticker shock: Price of European food is going up

By Florence Fabricant

New York Times News Service

Preserves and biscuits from France are going up in price, as are cheeses from Spain and prosciutto and pasta from Italy. The increases might amount to only 50 cents a pound wholesale for now, but retailers predict that if the euro remains strong against the dollar, consumers might begin to register sticker shock in the fall, especially around the holidays.

Ron Tanner, a spokesman for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, acknowledged that for many consumers of these specialty foods, a price increase would not exactly be a hardship.

"A good olive oil that now costs $32 a bottle instead of $29 does not make a huge difference to a high-end shopper," he said.


But at a time when Americans are watching household budgets, retailers who sell these goods are considerably more cautious.

"We've already raised some of our prices as much as 20 percent," said Steven Jenkins, a partner at Fairway markets, which imports many products directly from Europe. "Our private-label imported olive oil is up a dollar a liter, from $5.99 to $6.99. But we have a very price-sensitive clientele so we have to be careful."

A number of European companies, like La Compagnia dell'Olio, which sells luxury tuna products, sauces and olive oils from Sicily, say they are trying to absorb some of the increases, which include higher labor costs.

"We've been able to convince some of our producers to tighten up and hold the line, so on average our prices have gone up less than 10 percent," said Andrea Moccia, a representative of the company. He said that at retail a bottle of oil or a jar of tuna might increase from $26 to $28.

Rosario Safina, whose company, Da Rosario, imports mushrooms and truffles, said he had raised his prices about 10 percent, so a tiny bottle of truffle oil that sold for $6.95 is now $7.50. The price of fresh chanterelles from Russia and the Baltic countries have gone from $9 to $12 a pound wholesale, he said.

Based on the economy in the United States right now, "this is no time to raise prices," said Dane Neller, the president of Dean &; DeLuca. "Right now we're managing to hold the line. We have to because sales are already soft on the luxury end, but sooner or later we may have to pass on the increases. European producers are also faced with commodity prices going up."

With some products, like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pasta from Italy, importers were able to buy in bulk months ago and lock in the prices. But when the supplies are depleted, they will have to purchase more, probably at higher prices.

"We're promoting grana Padano and extra-vecchio piave at $8.99 a pound instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano for $9.99," said Joe Macaluso, a buyer for Citarella. "And we're seeing our customers shopping more carefully, looking for value and choosing alternatives."


Some European producers have already raised their prices, he said, to compensate for a potential loss in volume in the U.S. market.

What To Read Next
Get Local