Meat supply issues are beginning to ease, but prices will likely remain high for a bit longer. In April, temporary closures and reduced operating capacity slowed production time, resulting in fewer products at the grocery store. Less supply, coupled with panic-fueled spikes in demand drove prices up. Now, demand at the grocery store is returning to normal just in time for restaurant orders to increase. Meat processing plants are still finding their footing, and pressure on the food supply chain remains.
Beef prices rose by 21% annually at the end of May. Pork prices gained 18% and chicken prices grew by 11% during the same period. Ground beef prices briefly exceeded $6.00 per pound, before settling close to $4.00.
Beef and pork production declined 7% year over year by the end of May, according to the Department of Agriculture. The agriculture banking co-op CoBank warned that the meat supply could shrink by 35% in 2020.
30 plants closed across the country in April. Now as summer begins, over half of them have reopened. Meat processing plants are also closer to operating at full capacity. Cargill is currently operating at about 70% capacity, with fewer staff and additional safety protocols. The pork and beef producer JBS USA Holdings Inc is operating at 90% of its usual activity, and paying employees over 60 years old to stay home. Smithfield continues to operate at reduced capacity, with fewer workers coming in each day.
Thousands of workers got sick after working in close quarters, and 63 have died so far. In April, President Trump issued an executive order to keep meat plants running during the pandemic.