The problem is two-fold as consumers want to keep their freezers stocked during the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when some meat packing plants across the country are closed because of outbreaks of the virus. Smithfield Foods’ pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. is the most famous example of that, with over 700 workers having contracted COVID-19 in April. The plant is now back online, though in a limited capacity.
“We’re selling it as fast as we can get it in,” said Jeff Novak, general manager of L & M Meats Inc.
Novak said the crunch in the supply chain is causing his prices to rise, for example, ribeye steaks are selling at $14.99 per pound up from $11.99. Novak noted that some meat processing plants are coming back online, which should help with prices, not to mention stock–when the supply chain catches up.
So far, the price of meat has remained stable at Hugo’s Family Marketplace, though Tom Carriveau, meat director for the supermarket chain, said that may not continue to be the case.
“Our hope is never to have to,” said Carriveau, about raising prices. He added that prices for pork and chicken shouldn’t see a big change. When it comes to beef, things are different.
“Our costs have jumped substantially in the last two weeks, so at some point we’re going to have to look at that,” Carriveau said.
The squeeze on supply has caused some shops to set limits on what customers can buy, and sparsely stocked shelves are popping up in the area. Last week, Sam’s Club began limiting consumers to one package of each kind of meat. At Walmart on Wednesday there were large gaps between packages of fresh meat with bare shelves in between.
Hugo’s has not had to set limits on the amount of meat that customers can buy, which Carriveau said is something the chain will resist as long as possible. The challenges in supplying Hugo’s versus a store like Walmart are different.
Carriveau said Hugo’s does meat processing in-house, cutting steaks and making its own ground beef. This allows the chain to buy in bulk, and, if one supplier can’t meet the store’s needs, they can go with another. Big box stores, on the other hand, get everything pre-processed and packaged at a time when meat packing plants are already under duress from the virus.
The full shelves at Hugo’s go a long way to putting customers’ minds at ease.
“We feel it relieves anxiety of our customers when they come in and see a full meat case and not an empty 100 feet of fresh meat case,” Carriveau said.
Still, Hugo’s is not immune to supply issues and has turned to restaurant suppliers Sysco Foods and US Foods in Fargo and Grand Forks. With restaurants shut down and only recently reopening, the suppliers were able to fill the gap in stock.
“I knew that they probably had some product, and it was kind of a win for them as well as for us,” Carriveau said.