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Billings consumers, restaurants struggling with inflation

Posted at 6:05 AM, Jan 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 10:23:08-05

BILLINGS — Shopping at grocery stores is more expensive these days, with inflation peaking, product shortages, and rising shipping costs.

That’s all trickling down to consumers and local restaurants, which are struggling to balance rising expenses with customers' needs.

For Topz Sandwich Company owner Tucker Veltkamp, the Billings community is his bread and butter.

“I feel grateful that the community has supported us enough to grow. We do have sales volume,” said Veltkamp on Wednesday.

But this past year has challenged his business in ways he never imagined.

Topz owner Tucker Veltkamp chats with his customers

“I would go out and say that this has been the most difficult year and a half period that I’ve dealt with in business,” Veltkamp said.

Not only is Veltkamp dealing with product shortages, but if and when he can get his items, inflation has nearly doubled some of his costs.

“For instance, chicken this summer went from $70 a case to $150 a case,” said Veltkamp.

This year’s outbreak of avian flu has made finding poultry and eggs a nightmare for both restauranteurs and consumers.

Veltkamp said he was forced to raise his prices for the first time in seven years.

“We raised prices once in November, and then a second and third time this year,” Veltkamp said.

But some have been able to benefit from the egg crisis while serving the community. Mike Hovland and his wife raise chickens on their West End property.

“We cannot keep up with the demand,” said Hovland.

The Hovland's chickens

Customers have been saving cash by buying their organic eggs from the Hovlands.

“One gentleman was telling me, I think for organic eggs, a dozen of them, he paid $5.60 I believe and that was early December,” Hovland said.

Back at Topz, Veltkamp is getting creative by trying to cut costs in other areas to offset rising food costs, while not sacrificing the quality of the food he serves.

“Just cutting some little expenses out ‘cuz we don’t want to pass everything on to the customer. Those are our people and we’re only here because of them,” Veltkamp said.

And it’s something his customers seem to appreciate.

“If you can support your local people, do. Why not? I mean, your money goes to the person you know,” said customer Tom Heidle.