A Smart Guide to the U.S. Meat Shortage
5 min read
As the meat-supply crunch hits grocery stores, expect higher prices for burgers and steaks, purchase limits and smaller selection
With meat shortages hitting burger chains like Wendy's Co., what can shoppers expect at their grocery store's meat counter?

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted production at U.S. meatpacking plants, leading to higher prices and scarcity for popular items like ground beef and chicken breasts in supermarket meat cases. Grocers, seeking to head off panic buying, have begun limiting purchases and say they are preparing for intermittent shortages through May if not longer.

These shortages may intensify in the coming weeks given the lag between production at the slaughterhouses and distribution to stores. That means shoppers can expect higher prices, slimmed-down selections and nudges to choose plant-based meat alternatives or less popular cuts like sirloin steak.

Buying Limits

As consumers cook more at home, they are buying more protein. Supermarket meat sales are up about 41% year-over-year for the week ended April 25, according to research firm Nielsen.

Alicia Bedard, a 35-year-old mother of four boys, said her local Market Basket store in Royalston, Mass., had placed purchase limits for meat and was out of chicken when she went over the weekend.

"I felt like I was being punished because I have six people in the family," said Ms. Bedard, who bought beef patties and pork chops. Unable to buy steak for her husband's birthday, Ms. Bedard tried to buy meat from a local farm, but was told she would have to wait until the end of May.

Customers at ShopRite and Price Rite chains, owned by Wakefern Food Corp., are allotted two items each of beef, ground beef, pork and chicken. In-store butchers are cutting larger-size meat meant for restaurant sales, weighing and repackaging for shoppers.

"We've been adapting and adjusting on a week-to-week basis," said Karen Meleta, vice president of consumer and corporate communications for the supermarket chain.

Kroger Co., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Albertsons Cos. have also limited fresh meat purchases in some stores. New…
Jaewon Kang, Jacob Bunge
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