In recent weeks, top meat suppliers have announced temporary plant closures and President Trump signed an executive order to compel plants to stay open during the coronavirus crisis. As some shortages are expected in retail meat departments, several leading grocery chains have implemented purchase limits on meat, both to protect supply and to prevent customer hoarding.
More than 20 meatpacking plants around the U.S. have closed at some point in the past two months, reducing pork production by about a quarter and cutting beef output by about 10%, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union representing grocery and food workers nationwide.
Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain, is limiting meat purchases at some stores, citing the rash of closures at processing plants due to outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at the facilities.
In a statement, corporate affairs manager for Kroger Mid-Atlantic Allison McGee said, “At this time, we’ve added purchase limits on chicken and fresh pork, and customers are being limited to two pork items and two chicken items. We are monitoring conditions and the supply chain daily for changes.
“Additionally, we are asking our customers to shop responsibly and purchase what they need, knowing that we will continue to replenish stores daily.”
Midwestern retailer Hy-Vee issued a statement on Tuesday, saying, "We continue to work with industry leaders so we are prepared for any possible fluctuations in product and can best serve our customers. At Hy-Vee, we have product available at our stores but due to worker shortages at plants as well as an increase in meat sales, customers may not find the specific items they are looking for. Because of this, we are going to put a limit on customer purchases in the meat department. Effective Wednesday, May 6, each customer will be limited to four packages of a combination of fresh beef, ground beef, pork and chicken when they checkout at all Hy-Vee locations."
Warehouse club chain Costco is also temporarily restricting purchases of beef, pork and poultry products, limiting members to three items.
“Costco has implemented limits on certain items to help ensure more members are able to purchase merchandise they want and need,” the company announced. “Our buyers and suppliers are working hard to provide essential, high demand merchandise as well as everyday favorites.”
Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, which operates more than 200 supermarkets, is limiting the quantity of ground beef and advertised meat products that individuals can purchase per transaction, a policy that the company says is due to increased demand, rather than decreased supply.
“In recent days, our supermarkets have experienced increased guest demand for products in our meat department,” the company said in a statement. “To discourage bulk purchasing and ensure that we have product available for as many guests as possible, we are temporarily limiting the number of ground beef and advertised meat products guests can purchase at once. In a single transaction, guests are able to purchase two packages of ground beef and up to two of each meat item advertised in our weekly circular.”
San Antonio-based grocer H-E-B said, “To help protect the supply chain in Texas, we’ve implemented temporary purchase limits on certain items. Limiting product purchases is a proven way to ensure the best service and product availability for all customers. Our stores are in strong supply and we continue to restock products daily.”
In an effort to make sure all customers have access to products they need, the following limits apply to H-E-B stores in the San Antonio area, Central Texas, Gulf Coast, Border region and certain West and North Texas towns (the following limits do not apply to stores in the Houston area or Abilene, Big Spring, Burleson, Cleburne, Granbury, Hudson Oaks, Midland, Odessa, San Angelo and Waxahachie): Fresh beef, ground beef, chicken, pork, turkey – limit 5 packages, combined total (not five of each).
The following limits only apply to H-E-B stores in the Houston area as well as stores in Abilene, Big Spring, Burleson, Cleburne, Granbury, Hudson Oaks, Midland, Odessa, San Angelo and Waxahachie: Ground beef – limit 4 packages; Chicken – limit 4 packages; and Brisket – limit 2.
In upstate New York, Tops Friendly Markets announced a new policy in order to ensure there's enough meat to meet demand amid the COVID-19 crisis. The company placed limits on fresh beef, fresh pork and fresh chicken. Each customer is allowed two packages of each.
The new policy, which went into effect over the weekend, will remain in place until further notice. Tops operates 170 stores in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
Other regional chains are following suit. The Giant Company in Pennsylvania late last week implemented purchase limits — two per day per household — on select meat, poultry and pork categories until further notice. The measures are designed to provide as many customers as possible with meat, said company spokeswoman Ashley Flower.
Wegmans is also asking shoppers to limit purchases of bacon, beef, chicken, ground meat, lamb, pork, sausage, turkey and veal, according to its website.
“To help ensure we can serve the immediate needs of our customers, and minimize out-of-stock items, we currently have purchase limits on certain products,” the statement read.
In addition, since March Wegmans has limited the purchases of Family Pack 80% Ground Beef and Family Pack Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast to two per family. Around that time, it also encouraged shoppers to limit meat purchases to better manage inventory.
“Although we may not have every product cut or variety available for the next few weeks, we are working hard to source all the product we can to ensure our customers have plenty of options in our meat department,” Wegmans said.
The limits are in response to fears of a nationwide meat shortage, spurred on by the closing over the past month of a number of meatpacking plants from such leading brands as Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, JBS USA and Cargill. Plants have been temporarily closed for sanitation and safety measures due to outbreaks of COVID-19 among employees, although several of these have since reopened.
Last week, President Trump signed an Executive Order providing the authority to ensure the continued supply of beef, pork and poultry to U.S. consumers.
Under the order, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is directed to ensure that America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible. To ensure worker safety, these processors will continue to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
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