Nationally, the meat industry is feeling the effects of COVID-19, and a shortage could soon hit the Pine Belt.
Herman Lanham, meat manager for Ramey’s Marketplace in Sumrall, said he foresees the shortage as production slows due to the pandemic.
“We are trying to stock as heavy as we can, but on fresh products, you can’t get too heavy because of the shelf life,” said Lanham. “We are trying to fill our freezers up. We are getting in a lot of frozen pork. As far as ordering fresh red meats, it’s hard because you can’t freeze it. They say that (by) next week, the warehouse will be low on production.”
David Lawson, co-owner of the Lil’ Butcher Shoppe in Hattiesburg, said he’s seen an increase in prices and a reduction in availability.
“From one truck, I ordered 30 cases of rib-eyes. Of course, we order more than that from other trucks, but out of the 30 cases, I received three,” he said. “You order 100 cases to get 20. You’ll never get the 100. As of right now, with a shorter supply, the prices go up. It gets passed down from the supplier to the business to the consumer.
“We are looking at a six-to-eight week projection of being short in supply before we get back to any kind of normalcy. As of right now, we have meat, and we have bought up for it. Everything that is coming in next week has astronomically gone up.”
Both Lanham and Lawson plan to limit the amount of meat a customer can buy. It has been common practice for Ramey’s to limit purchases for meat when running deals.
Still, Lanham anticipates shortages will increase and will be similar to the toilet paper shortages caused by people buying in bulk.
“Customers have been buying in bulk since the pandemic happened with the toilet paper and paper towels,” said Lanham. “We have (limited purchasing) already, and we had done that before this all happened. If we run something really cheap, like we’ll run ground beef for $1.98 a pound, but we want all our customers to get some, we’ll limit it per customer. We have had some shortages, but as far as being out of things ... not yet.”
Lawson added that the meat shortage will drag on for several weeks as demand increases with restaurants opening while production decreases with workers functioning in limited environments.
“(Meat processors) can’t open them up on a dime,” he said. “They are cleaning the plants and trying to get employees tested. Once they get the healthy employees to work the plants and do their COVID operation, they are going to be separated. In packing plants, they are going to limit how many people can stand on the cutting block by putting them 8 feet apart. Even once they get in, then you talk about opening restaurants all over the country at one time. Think of 25 million restaurants whose coolers are empty of meat right now. You’ll have a replenishment of the restaurants on top of replenishing lost demand.”
Lawson said he is optimistic that the area will “get through” the shortage.
“We’re limiting a lot of stuff just to make it available to everybody. They don’t want to do that, and we don’t want to have to do that. To make sure everybody gets something, we have to put a limit. (However), as long as we have something to sell, we will be open,” he said.