Grocery retailers start to limit meat purchases, due to supply shortages brought on by declines in meat processing.
Costco and Hy-Vee this week imposed limits on meat purchases. Costco will limit fresh beef, pork, and poultry purchases to three items per Costco member, while Hy-Vee will limit customers to four packages of a combination of fresh beef, pork, and chicken starting Wednesday.
Analysts say more retailers will face similar decisions, as meat processing facilities come back online and work to restore slaughter capacity.
CoBank shares, “Nearly two dozen plants processing beef and pork products closed in April due to COVID-19.” Many others slowed production.
President Donald Trump last week invoked the Defense Production Act, ordering U.S meat packing facilities to continue operations. While it may be as a step in the right direction, grocery outlets will struggle to maintain adequate supplies, according to Dr. Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University livestock economist.
“This time we’re going to see disruptions in the flow of product to grocery stores,” Peel said. “We had shortages in grocery stores much of the last month. The early stages were just logistical bottlenecks. For example: On the beef side, in the last three weeks, we’ve produced about 300 million pounds less beef than a year ago.”
CoBank’s KnowledgeExchange division today published “Closed Meat Plants Today Mean Empty Meat Cases This Summer.” The new report suggests meat supplies destined for grocery stores could shrink nearly 30-percent by Memorial Day. Additionally, retail pork and beef price could see increases as high as 20-percent relative to prices last year.
Dr. Peel seems optimistic, but remains realistic. He expects matters to improve, but over a greater period of time.
“It’s possible, optimistically, that in the next week or two we see the worst of the health impacts on the labor force at these plants, and then begin to work our way out of it,” Peel said. “It still takes time to get caught up.”