Michigan grocers limit meat purchases to prevent panic-buying
As fear of a meat shortage looms, Meijer, Kroger and other grocers have put temporary limits on fresh ground beef, pork and poultry to prevent panic-buying and hoarding.
At Kroger stores in Michigan, limit signs have been posted in fresh-meat sections. For consumers ordering for pickup or to have their groceries delivered, online shopping carts are limited to two packages each category of meat, including all varieties of fresh beef, chicken and pork.
Rachel Hurst, spokeswoman for Kroger, said that because it has a diverse network of suppliers, the supermarket chain has been able to maintain an assortment of meat and seafood, even though coronavirus oubreaks at meat and poultry processors have forced temporary closures or reduced production.
“There is plenty of protein in the supply chain; however, some processors are experiencing challenges,” Hurst said in an email. “At this time, we’ve added temporary purchase limits on fresh ground beef, poultry and pork to ensure all customers continue to have access to these products.”
At Guastello's Village Market in St. Clair Shores, there’s a limit of two packages of chicken, pork and beef per customer. Manager Jerry Monte said he has not had an issue with supply. Rather, he doesn't have enough manpower to cut the meat.
“We couldn’t keep up with the volume…” he said. “It’s a little bit of everyday necessity. A little bit of hoarding. Most of it is because I can’t cut it fast enough.”
Other food items with purchase limits at his store are flour and dry yeast. “I’m buying from three different vendors and still can’t keep up with the demand,” he said.
Meijer officials say stores are stocked with most cuts of meat. However, they've had to impose limits.
"We have placed purchase limits on some meat products and we’ll continue working hard to keep as many fresh and frozen meat options as possible available for our customers in the coming weeks," said Christina Fecher, spokeswoman for the Grand Rapids-based chain.
George Quackenbush, executive director of the Michigan Beef Industry Commission, said, “Some grocers have put some limits in place and that’s really to due to two things: To help prevent panic-type purchases from consumers and also ensure that the supply that is available can reach the greatest number of consumers while we go through this period while processing is not at full capacity.”
Quackenbush said there’s currently plenty of beef in the supply chain, although consumers may see changes in the variety of cuts available as well as packaging.
“We’ve looked at those levels and we’re confident that there’s plenty of beef to see us through this period of time,” he said. “But what consumers see at the grocery store is really going to depend on how they react, so that’s why we’ve been urging folks certainly go to the grocery store and purchase what you typically would, but don’t feel that you need to panic. You don’t need to fill the freezer at this point in time.”
Prices are on the rise, with the cost of wholesale beef and pork jumping more than 20% since President Trump’s executive order to keep plants running during the pandemic. The supply shortfalls and soaring prices underscore the challenges of quickly fixing America’s broken meat supply chain. One-in-five Wendy's restaurants have run out of hamburgers.
Through Tuesday, processors this week slaughtered 35% fewer cattle than the same period a year ago, and 39% fewer hogs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Meat supplies for retail grocery stores could shrink almost 30% by Memorial Day, according to agricultural lender CoBank. That could lead to retail pork and beef price hikes as high as 20% compared to a year ago.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.