Shoppers can expect higher prices, fewer choices at fresh meat counter

Wholesale prices for a box of choice meat doubles since February

SAN ANTONIO – Shoppers can expect temporarily to see higher prices, purchasing limits and fewer choices when it comes to beef, pork and even poultry as the coronavirus impacts the meat supply chain.

“The bottom line is we have a bottleneck in the packing supply system,” said Dr. David Anderson, agriculture economist at Texas A&M University.

Costco, H-E-B, Kroger and other grocers have set limits on how much fresh meat shoppers can buy to help assure that more people have access.

If meat counters are low on product, it’s not because there is a shortage of livestock.

“We were set up to produce a record amount of beef, pork and chicken,” Anderson said. “The animals were produced. It’s this bottleneck at the packing side.”

Some packing and processing plants have been forced to close temporarily as workers became ill with COVID-19. Others slowed production to manage social distancing in the plants.

“What we really have are tighter supplies,” Anderson said.

And tighter supply coupled with increase demand results in higher prices.

On the wholesale level, a box of choice cuts that was selling for $2.05 in February was going for $4.10, or double, this week.

On the retail level, Anderson says shoppers may not necessarily be able to find the exact cuts they are looking for. But, they will find climbing prices.

“I think I already notice higher prices at the retail and grocery stores,” he said.

While Anderson expects the pandemic’s effect on the meat supply chain to linger, he says there is not reason to panic and hoard.

“Let’s not make this like toilet paper,” he said. “There’s going to be plenty for everybody.”

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