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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

I find myself wondering if the current maneuverings taking place within the airline industry offer any sort of foreshadowing of moves that may have to take place within the food industry. Right now, the airlines are trying to figure out how to make some money or just break even at a time when rising fuel prices are making it near impossible to stay in business.

According to the stories I’ve been reading, there is a dollar threshold for airline tickets beyond which people simply stop flying. So the airlines have to be careful – they can't raise prices too much, so they have to find other ways they can charge people…right now, the trend seems to be toward charging for checked baggage. It may not be too long before they actually start charging for people to sit down…which probably is the threshold beyond which I’m not willing to go.

Will the food industry have to start making the same decisions? It seems to me that it may have to, especially if the cost of fuel – and therefore, the cost of shipping product along an increasingly global supply chain – keeps rising.

Think about it for a moment. Right now, regular gasoline is in the $4 per gallon range, and diesel is about a buck more. Clearly there already has been an impact on the price of food. But what happens when fuel costs another dollar per gallon more? And then another dollar? And then another dollar? I’m not sure where it all ends, and nor are a lot of economists. But I am sure that as fuel gets more expensive, so does a lot of food. And that means choices will have to be made.

One option is to simply pass along the cost of fuel by increasing food prices, but depending on the item, there almost certainly is a line beyond which consumers won’t be willing to go…though it will depend on both the item and the specific shopper. Another is to try to find other places to hide the costs, just like the airlines are doing. Though there aren’t as many places to hide them as airlines have.

Yet another option is to make some fundamental changes in the way products are sourced, and when. Forget about carbon footprints as a rationale for eating local; when gas prices get into the stratosphere, that’s a pretty good reason to source as many products locally as possible. And if that means certain products are only going to be available seasonally, because to bring them in from across the country or around the world simply makes them too expensive, then so be it. Retailers may have to make that decision, and then sell it to shoppers.

It won’t be an easy sale, since so many shoppers are used to having everything available all the time. But I remain more convinced than ever that there are tectonic shifts taking place that are going to affect retailers, suppliers and shoppers. We have to start preparing for these changes now.

One of my favorite fictional philosophers, the Boston gumshoe Spenser, is fond of saying that one should “prepare for what the enemy can do, not what he might do.”

That’s a pretty good mantra for going to market these days, since the enemy is an environment with which few of us have experience.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

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