When I reached the back of the grocery store, it all hit home.
There was no beef. From the self-service area, where you’d normally find hundreds of pounds of ground beef, roasts and Choice steaks, all the way to the full-service case that usually houses Premium Choice, Prime and dry aged steaks — nothing. Sure, I knew people were stockpiling meat (along with toilet paper, cleaning supplies, diapers and milk). I just never expected there wouldn’t be any left to buy.
Like many of you, I live in the country. I drive 35 miles each way to the grocery store. But it’s a really nice store, and they have everything I’d ever want. Or they did until the COVID-19 pandemic took over.
Over the last week or so, we’ve received a few questions about this from Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association members. After all, ranchers are still raising cattle. The auction markets are still open. Feeders are still feeding, and the packing plants remain open.
Jason Jerome, the senior director of retail and foodservice engagement for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, explains it’s not a supply problem, but rather an issue of demand and allocation.
“If a store normally orders 100 cases per day and now they are ordering 500 cases per day, the warehouses cannot manage a 400% increase,” Jason says. “Therefore, they must allocate to each location what they feel are the most critical out-of-stocks and as a result, we see empty store shelves.”
Jason has had multiple conversations with retailers, and says they are getting trucks every day and each day there are different items available. The corporate teams are forced to move available product between all their stores.
“Now compound that with every grocery chain in the country doing the same thing and you will see empty shelves in some locations…for now,” he says.
There are also challenges inside the warehouses. Jason says a warehouse that might normally pull 100,000 cases per day is now being asked to pull 500,000 cases per day.
“This just can’t happen,” he says. “They don’t have the manpower or the storage capacity. Since they can’t bring product in fast enough, truckers are experiencing detention times before they can offload into the warehouse. This only helps to exacerbate the issue of being able to keep enough wheels under the product coming out of the packers.”
The good news? It’s getting better every day.
So, if you’re like me, and have to get your beef from the supermarket, please check back regularly. It’s coming. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a deep freeze full year-round, spread the word to your friends in town (from a distance, of course): There’s no beef shortage. America’s cattlemen are making sure of it.
Katrina Huffstutler is executive director of communications of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.