As the effects of Hurricane Katrina ripple throughout the economy, shoppers' grocery bills are expected to edge upward in the coming weeks as food companies grapple with soaring fuel costs, damaged facilities and choked-off transportation routes.
Commodities such as coffee, bananas, chicken and seafood all have been affected by the storm that ravaged the Gulf Coast last week.
In Mississippi, which produces about 10 percent of the country's broiler chickens, 10 of the 14 chicken slaughtering plants were without electricity and water, and hundreds of "grow-out houses," where chickens mature, were damaged, according to Richard L. Lobb, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council. However, Lobb said that power and water were being restored and that the plants "may be back in operation by this week."
The biggest problem, he said, "is one we share with other members of the farm economy -- a lack of fuel" for trucks and generators. "Even if a farm or plant is undamaged, it needs power for ventilation, feed and water," he said. "They're using generators, but they're running low on diesel fuel.
As for the impact on chicken prices, Lobb told the weekly Food Chemical News, "There clearly will be an impact nationwide."
Chiquita Brands International said 25 percent of its banana imports to the United States last year came through its facilities in Gulfport, Miss., which are now too damaged to receive shipments. The fruit will have to be rerouted through ports in Texas and Florida.
Louisiana oysters also will be virtually impossible to find. The storm decimated the $2.6 billion Louisiana seafood industry, destroying oyster beds as well as the boats, docks, warehouses and processing plants that ship the delicacy.
Although Louisiana supplied only 10 percent of the country's shrimp (88 percent of the shrimp Americans eat is imported), it produced 40 percent of the country's oysters.
"Louisiana is the home state for oysters in this country," and other areas won't make up the loss, John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, said in an interview last week. The oyster beds will need to be reseeded and "it will take a lot of time, effort and government help to get the infrastructure back up," he said.
For coffee drinkers, there was mixed news. About half of the Folger's brand comes out of New Orleans. Procter & Gamble said that its facility there was closed and that it was unclear when it could reopen. In addition, other companies were struggling to remove hundreds of thousands of bags of coffee stored in warehouses in New Orleans.
However, Starbucks, with roasting plants in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Washington state, said in a press release that it "did not hold any coffee in New Orleans and our coffee supply is not affected by the hurricane."
Area supermarket chains are nervously awaiting word from their suppliers before making any predictions about shortages or price increases.
Stephanie Childs, a spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a Washington-based trade group representing packaged food and beverage companies, said consumers probably won't see any increase in the price of products already on the shelves.
Childs says companies are just trying to help their employees and assess any damage to facilities. "Prices should be stable for the next few weeks, but the long-term effects are still unclear," she said.
Mark Polsky, Magruder's senior vice president, said, "We've been warned to watch out for chicken shortages. So many of the processing plants are in the Deep South."
He also expects that Katrina will have an effect on the availability of Louisiana yams, which are popular in the Washington area during the upcoming holiday season. In their place, Magruder's will stock sweet potatoes from North Carolina.
At Safeway, spokesman Greg TenEyck said it's still too early to predict what shoppers will see in the coming months. "Nothing dramatic has come across my desk yet, but the potential is there," he said. "We're just waiting."
For Giant Food stores, "It's business as usual. When we can't get a certain product, we go elsewhere," spokesman Barry Scher said. "If we do have a problem, shucked oysters might be impacted. But we don't sell a lot of them, and next month we start getting them anyway from Texas and Maryland anyway."
Sarah Kenney, marketing director for Whole Foods Market in the mid-Atlantic region, anticipates shortages of seafood and coffee but said the chain has not yet had problems.
For Washington area restaurants specializing in New Orleans cuisine, some specific ingredients are already hard to find.
Acadiana, a new Louisiana fish house in the Penn Quarter, is scheduled to open Monday. It's the latest project of chef Jeff Tunks of DC Coast, TenPenh and Ceiba restaurants in downtown Washington. But Tunks and his crew won't be serving Louisiana oysters or New Orleans potato chips, at least not for a while.
"We're trying to make modifications," said chef Chris Clime. "We spent months, years really, researching these products, and now they're gone. Our oysters will come from the mid-Atlantic, and instead of Zaps potato chips we'll use local Route 11."
The restaurant has a two- to three-month supply of frozen po' boy rolls from the well-known Leidenheimer Baking Co. in New Orleans.
At New Orleans Bistro in Bethesda, owner Kevin Scott has coffee worries.
"I'm most concerned about the French Market brand coffee with chicory that we serve. I'm going to have trouble getting that," he said. But he does not expect to have trouble getting the Camilla-brand red beans, tasso-cured spiced ham and corn flour needed for the menu's Cajun specialties.
Coffee prices are also a big concern for the Clyde's Group restaurants. "We go through at least a couple hundred pounds of coffee a week," said Bart Farrell, director of purchasing.
Industry-wide, he does not anticipate a spike in shrimp prices because of Asian imports, but he said restaurants that serve red snapper and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico might be serving more tuna and swordfish instead.