Find the latest episode of "The Uncertain Hour" here. Listen
COVID-19

Meat prices are down, with surpluses lingering

Erika Beras Sep 21, 2020
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
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
Heard on:
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
HTML EMBED:
COPY

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

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.