Shortage hits local stores

Shoppers look over meat for sale at the Piggly Wiggly in Summit. A shortage of meat due to production shutdowns at meat-packing plants impacted by the coronavirus is affecting the local food supply.

Rising prices on meat and a widespread shortage of pork have customers scratching their heads and asking the same question — where’s the beef?

“I was cutting meat when the tornado came through in ’75 that tore up McComb, through (Hurricane) Katrina (in 2005). I’ve been through a lot of tornadoes and storms,” McComb Market meat and seafood department manager Bill Griffith Jr. said.

But the coronavirus pandemic — and its effect on the supply chain  — is a disaster of a different nature.

“This is probably the worst disaster I’ve ever seen,” Griffin said.

A national shortage of beef and pork products is one of the unexpected consequences of coronavirus mitigation efforts, and local grocers and meat producers are feeling the effects as grocery bills rise and packing plants close.

“About all my pork that I have is out on the shelf. There’s none in the back room,” Summit Piggly Wiggly meat manager Chris Morris said. “Running low on chicken. We’ve got beef but it’s really high. Prices have doubled in the last week.”

The increased price of beef cut the demand for those products, but Morris said he thinks he’ll soon run out of pork completely because of supply chain issues at the nation’s largest meatpacking facilities, where production dwindled as workers fell ill in recent weeks.

“We’re not selling nearly the beef that we were,” Morris said. “We have three different wholesalers that we use, and they’re not able to get (meat) from the manufactures, like the big packing companies like Swift or Seaboard or Tyson — none of them.”

Morris said he understands the hit customers are taking at the cash register but said the situation should return to normal soon enough.

“We’re not making any more than we have. We’re making the same markup as we always have — it just costs us double what it used to,” he said. “We’ve been working our butts off. It’s been busy, busy, busy.”

The Piggly Wiggly displayed signs on its entrance warning customers that some meat products may be unavailable and posted notice that Ma Bell sausage products were gone.

Kings Packing Co. just outside McComb, where MaBell is produced, was shut down Thursday morning with a sign posted on the entrance to their storefront apologizing to customers for the inconvenience.

Cutrer’s Meat Market in Kentwood, La., reported a 200% increase in retail orders amid dwindling supply, a dynamic that is causing delays, but noted their custom meat processing operations are unaffected.

“Several large slaughterhouses across the country have shut down due to covid-19. These slaughterhouses process tens of thousands animals per day,” Raymond Cutrer wrote on Facebook. “The resulting supply shortage has depleted meat supplies from large and small producers alike.”

Bobby Jordan of Brookhaven was shopping at the Piggly Wiggly Wednesday and said he’s noticed the increased price of meat and is going between grocery stores to find the best deals.

“This is a bad time to be doing that, you know. It seems like a lot of price gouging going on,” he said. “We noticed a lot of difference between that. That’s why we usually buy everything on sale. We get good prices here on meat. We’ve had to wait until the right week of the month because they’ve got one week, have a good sale for somebody else, the next week hit us good.”

Gaining access to the supply is tricky but demand for beef is surging which caused the widespread increases in price, Griffin said.

“We’re having a little problem getting certain red meat — ribeyes, T-Bones, your prime meat. The good beef,” Griffin Jr. said. “Really I think because of the plants not being open. It’s not because the product, the product is there — they’re having a hard time getting people to process the product.”

Griffin said he’s working hard to keep prices reasonable for the community.

“I gradually go up on mine, not one hard-lick at once, so I try to space it out,” he said. “We’re not making the profit we usually do, but we are trying to keep our prices down.”

Griffin said demand for meat is surging and he believes that is because more people have expendable income due to receipt of government unemployment benefits.

“Our sales are through the roof. It’s a good thing,” he said.

Griffin said he’s hired eight meat and seafood employees since the outbreak of coronavirus to meet surging demand.

Chanzellor Taylor of McComb is one of those employees hired to help meet the increased demand. He started working in the meat department about a month ago and noticed an increase in the number of customers shopping for beef and pork in recent days.

“With this coronavirus, I had a to take a break from school and during online classes I had to pick up a little job to keep myself occupied,” Taylor said. “It’s been hectic because with the aid that people have been getting, they’ve been buying food and meat by the bulk. We’re constantly working.”

Taylor said some customers mention increased prices.

“Some of them won’t even buy some of the meat because of the inflation,” he said. “It’s nothing that we can help, it’s just the time we’re living in now — you know, supply and demand.”

A customer shopping for beef overheard Taylor’s comments on the price of meat and quipped, “I might as well go buy my own cow.”

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