Meat Prices Up, But Supply Fears Unwarranted on Long Island

Islip 2
A line of customers wait to get into Islip Meat Market on Saturday, May 2, 2020. Long Island Press photo.

Coronavirus caused a nationwide meat production crunch that sparked fears of a shortage, but Long Island retailers say the issue simply caused prices for chicken, pork, and beef to increase.

Causing the issue is the temporary closure of several major slaughterhouses nationwide that needed to be disinfected after workers were diagnosed with COVID-19. Local butchers and supermarkets say they’re monitoring the situation and urging customers not to buy meat in excess, but burgers are still easier to find than toilet paper, which remains in short supply following panic buying earlier in the pandemic. Average retail fresh chicken prices were up 5.4 percent, while beef was up 5.8 percent, and pork up 6.6 percent. 

“We are not seeing a significant impact as a result of meat plant closures,” said Stefanie Shuman, a spokeswoman for Stop and Shop, which has 50 locations on LI. “We remain in close contact with our suppliers to ensure we have product coming to our stores each day. While we have been working through a small number of plant closures, none of our suppliers have been closed for a significant period of time.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive ordering meat production plants to remain open by terming them critical infrastructure under the Defense Production Act. But critics say it’s not that simple.

“We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. “When poultry plants shut down, it’s for deep cleaning and to save workers’ lives. If the administration had developed meaningful safety requirements early on as they should have and still must do, this would not even have  become an issue.” 

Some remained concerned about the availability of meat. Local residents have been hoarding excess meat in their households, warned Connecticut-based supermarket Stew Leonard’s, which has two locations on LI and is concerned that supply may decrease. 

I already can’t find lots of basic groceries like canned food, produce, and toiletries,” said Mineola resident Chris Kostulias. “My local grocery store is already issuing purchase limitations like one gallon of milk per family per trip. A measure similar to that can be made for meat, too … We have to share the supply or else loads of people get nothing and some people get to buy it all.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he’s been in touch with local retailers about the issue.

“It’s not in any way a crisis situation,” Bellone said. “Toilet paper remains harder to get.”

Easing the supply for consumers is the fact that there is less demand from restaurants.

“Many of our major suppliers are also supporting the foodservice industry and as that demand has decreased, they’ve been able to increase production for our stores,” said Shuman, the Stop & Shop representative. “We ask our customers to buy what they need, but leave some for their neighbors.”

With Reuters

Sign up for Long Island Press’ email newsletters here. Sign up for home delivery of Long Island Press here.

For more coronavirus coverage, visit longislandpress.com/coronavirus