With a number of meat processing plants encountering temporary closures due to localized outbreaks of COVID-19, grocery stores nationally are adjusting to changes in supply.
This week, Costco joined Kroger in limiting meat purchases in stores.
Costco announced on Monday it too will limit meat purchases. "Fresh meat purchases are temporarily limited to a total of 3 items per member among the beef, pork and poultry products," Costco said.
Meanwhile, Walmart customers looking to find some meat products, such as marinated steaks or sliced meat, might find them out of stock. According to a person knowledgeable of Walmart’s supply chain, the grocer is working with suppliers to streamline products to ensure meats such as chicken and ground beef are available at customers, which could result in a decrease in meat variety on shelves.
The person knowledgeable of Walmart’s supply chain said that the company has seen demand for essential products level off after initially peaking in March when the coronavirus began to spread nationally.
As of now, Walmart does not plan on implementing purchasing limits on meat products.
“Meat continues to be in high demand as customers stock up on protein,” a Walmart spokesperson said. “As we would normally do during periods of high demand, we are working through our supply chain to continually replenish items as quickly as possible to help us meet the needs of our customers.”
On Monday, a Kroger spokesperson said that limits on meat products would only be applied to ground beef and fresh pork.
“At Kroger, we feel good about our ability to maintain a broad assortment of meat and seafood for our customers because we purchase protein from a diverse network of suppliers,” a Kroger spokesperson said. “There is plenty of protein in the supply chain; however, some processors are experiencing challenges.”
Last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order, invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meat plants open. The order will provide legal cover for meat plants facing localized outbreaks of the coronavirus.
“The U.S. government took decisive action to recognize the essential work of our industry and company, as well as our farmers and producers, by prioritizing support for meat and poultry processors and producers and clarifying the standards America should follow to return workers safely back to the workplace,” Tyson Meats said on Friday.
The executive order came days after the head of Tyson Meats warned in a Washington Post advertisement that the “food chain is breaking.”
"As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain," Chairman John Tyson wrote in a letter published Sunday. "As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed."
Whether the changing supply of meat will cause prices to increase is still unknown.
The USDA publishes monthly data on meat pricing, but figures from April will not be available until next week.
The pricing index found slight increases in meat prices in March 2020 for products such as beef and pork compared to February, but those values were within month-to-month price fluctuations the market encounters.
Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook .