Charlie Brown

Author, editor, filmmaker, podcaster

Making Groceries, Post-Katrina Style


Each grocery store in New Orleans has a personality and experience that can be reduced to the lifestyle it fulfills. Think of Langenstein's and the Magazine-boutiqued Uptown matron jumps to mind.  Whole Foods envisions the Crocs-shod yuppie who feels superior every time an “organic” sticker enters their basket.  And one can't think of Dorignac's without picturing the white-haired Metairie grandmother who can barely see above the cart's handles.


But while these stereotypes might ring true, groceries are a great equalizer.  It is something we all need and the quality of the food we choose to serve ourselves is in direct proportion to the size of our paycheck.


So, because life in New Orleans still lies in the shadow of the great storm Katrina, how does the cost of groceries add up two years later?


First, it's best to account for inflation.  According to in a chart prepared by Timothy McMahon, from August 2005 to July 2007, we have seen an inflation rate of 6.06%.  So that means if we spent $1 right before the storm, we should be paying $1.06 today.  But that is just theory and a Where Y'at investigation finds prices far above those pre-storm.


By examining circulars printed in the Times-Picayune on August 25, 2005 and going into those same markets today, prices are stunningly high.  Whole Foods was left out of this investigation, because its prices were already at a premium before the storm.  The investigation follows three tiers: the upper class Langenstein's on Metairie Road, the middle class Dorignac's on Veterans and the mid-to-lower class Winn Dixie on the 400 block of Veterans.  All three stores were contacted for comment, none of which responded by press time.


For purposes of research, we looked at the prices of meat and seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits and a few local favorites.


Meats and seafood saw the most significant price jump.  Chicken was surprisingly almost doubling in price.  At Langenstein's, a whole fryer (a full chicken you cut yourself, usually the cheapest per pound) went from $0.69 a pound to $1.29.  Boneless breasts at Dorignac's have jumped from $2.49 per pound to $3.49.


At Winn Dixie, ground round (usually known as hamburger meat) only went up near the inflation rate, going from $2.99 per pound to $3.19.  The same held true for Langenstein's, where their ground chuck is the same price as pre-storm advertising.  But the choicer cut of top sirloin at Winn Dixie jumped from an advertised price of $3.99 to $7.99.  To be fair, they advertise saving $2 by having their club card.  Still, the jump from $5.99 to $7.99 still is pretty staggering.  As is the jump of Langenstein's baby back ribs from $3.99 to $4.99 and Dorignac's boneless chuck roast from $1.99 to $3.59.


But the biggest price shock was Tilapia filets at Langenstein's.  The Gulf fish went from $4.99 per pound to $7.99 per pound.  The same fish was $5.99 at Winn Dixie, but large head-on shrimp, the staple of New Orleans cuisine, jumped there from $3.99 to $5.99.


While not as shocking, vegetable prices were definitely on the rise.  Dorignac's was advertising itself before the storm as (sic) “'New' Orleans Farmer's Market” and put their vegetable prices front and center.  So we see a change of Louisiana yams going from $0.59 to $0.99 cents per pound, Washington red delicious apples from $0.69 to $0.99, large bell peppers from $0.69 to $1.29 and California large celery leaping from $0.69 to $1.59.  While Winn Dixie saw a drop in price for California peaches ($1.49 to $0.98), it still saw rises in South African navel oranges, green bell peppers and a big jump in zucchini squash from $0.97 to $1.69.


Finally, local favorite CDM coffee and chickory now costs $2.99 per pound at Langenstein's (formerly $1.99) and Dorignac's (formerly $2.29).  Blue Plate mayonnaise at Langenstein's sits at $3.19, up from $1.99 for 32 ounces.


While we know gas prices have a good deal to do with increased prices, there still seems to be a pattern of sticking it to the people.  Entergy keeps begging for rate hikes, insurance companies won't write policies and rents are closing in on Los Angeles levels.  Now food, an absolute necessity, really cuts into the pay check. It's obvious that consumers, and not the government, are being stuck with the price of restoring New Orleans.