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Grocery stores rationing meat amid production slowdowns at meat plants

Stores like Kroger, Food Lion, Wegmans, and Costco are limiting the amount of meat customers can buy. Have you had any trouble finding meat at the grocery store?

NORFOLK, Va. — If you’ve visited the grocery store lately, you might be wondering, where’s the meat?

As major processing plants report slower production, stores across the U.S. and right here in Hampton Roads might have a few shortages.

Stores like Food Lion, Costco, and Kroger are limiting the amount of meat people can buy and there are a few reasons why.

Firstly, the coronavirus is slowing down production at meat suppliers across the country. Meat giant Tyson, for example, reported a COVID-19 outbreak among workers.

“People think of assembly lines, they might think of car assembly lines, things like that; you have assembly lines for addressing food production as well,” Old Dominion University associate professor of supply chain management Erika Marsillac said.

Second, this production slowdown could cause some people to panic buy, so stores start rationing meat.

“The store itself is trying to protect its own supply," Marsillac said. "Its mission is to feed as many people as possible. They can’t do that if one or a few people come in and buy an entire shopping cart full of ground beef.”

She added, “It’s in response to both the behavior of the customers but also in response to making sure they can still do their job in serving the customer.”

Thirdly, the demand for meat in the grocery store is going up because more people are at home. It's another reason for stores to ration.

“The demand for the food in the house suddenly skyrocketed," Marsillac said. "The demand for the food in the restaurants and the workplaces and the schools disappeared.”

Marsillac said there is enough food in the supply-chain but the shift in demand and a slowdown in production ultimately mean this could affect the type and amount of meat that’s available, so you might not be able to find your favorite cuts.

“The kinds of meat that require a lot of human touch, human intervention... the things that are easy to cook: the boneless breast of chicken those are things you’ll probably see some shortages on,” she said.

“For example, if you’re normally looking for pork chops, you might have to look for a different kind of pork or if you’re looking for ground beef, you’ll have to look for a different type of beef.”

Marsillac suggested consumers be open to alternatives and give major production plants time to adjust.

“Instead of going to your local grocery store and looking for the chicken you would get from Tyson, you can look in your local food market, farmers, local butcher shops; their supply chains are mostly functional,” she said.

But there’s no need to panic. Marsillac said the shortages are temporary.

“People should not be worried. There are not going to be long term shortages,” she said. “Don’t panic buy, don’t hoard. We’ll be OK.”

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