COVID-19

Meat prices are down, with surpluses lingering

Erika Beras Sep 21, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A man shops in the meat section of a Washington, D.C., grocery store in April. Meat supply and demand has been up and down during the pandemic. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
COVID-19

Meat prices are down, with surpluses lingering

Erika Beras Sep 21, 2020
A man shops in the meat section of a Washington, D.C., grocery store in April. Meat supply and demand has been up and down during the pandemic. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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Just a few months ago there were meat shortages around the country as packing plants shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Grocery stores were limiting purchases, and meat prices were soaring.  

Now, we’ve got more meat than people may be able to eat. The surplus has been building for months as restaurants, hotels and other businesses that feed people remain closed or are only partly open. 

When most of us started staying home in March, there was an immediate surplus of meat. Cafeterias, airports, arenas were mostly closed or barely open.

“Think of how much food was consumed in a football stadium on a Sunday with 70,000 people in it,” said Chris Muller, a hospitality consultant and former Boston University professor. That meat is distributed differently than the meat we typically buy in supermarkets.

So that meat was repackaged and sent to grocery stores. But it turns out people don’t eat the same stuff at home as they do when they go out. 

Then, meatpacking plants closed down when workers got sick. That left livestock lingering on farms and feedlots. 

“Now that we’ve gotten the production levels back up to normal, we have to process those materials for meat production because there’s really no other way that we could repurpose that livestock,” said Terry Espers, professor of supply chain management at Ohio State University.

So now there is more meat at lower prices, and not just in supermarkets.

Before the pandemic, Michelle Durpetti, who manages Chicago steakhouse Gene and Georgetti, was spending around $31 a pound for a steak filet. Now it’s down to about $24 a pound. 

“In normal times, this would be a much different discussion, because anytime meat prices drop and you can still do the volume, that’s a good thing,” Durpetti said.

Right now, her two restaurant locations are open, but she isn’t doing the volume; she’s buying 75% less meat than she was before the pandemic. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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