How Expensive Will Meat Get?

Since the onslaught of the COVID-19, we have seen an unprecedented spike in beef prices. The retail price of beef has increased by 60 percent in the past two months to a high of $410.05. Beef has doubled in price, making a hamburger an item of luxury almost on par with a steak.

Why is the humble hamburger making such a dent in our food budget? Because many meat processing plants have closed since the emergence of the coronavirus. That simply leaves less beef to go around, which automatically makes it more expensive.

Many grocery stores are imposing a limit on how much meat their customers can purchase to prevent a total meat shortage. Some of the larger grocery stores, such as Kroger and Costco, are close to running out of meat since the coronavirus has severely interrupted the food supply chain.

It is expected beef prices will stay high for a while. But it is almost certain that prices will soar through the roof in the coming weeks. With 30 million Americans joining the unemployment line, that old standby, Hamburger Helper, may become an unaffordable luxury.

Companies are being forced to underproduce which leaves plants idling due to concerns about the coronavirus and its effect on workers, hundreds of processing employees have tested positive. 

The chain restaurant Wendy’s has removed beef from some of its locations. Ironically, this recalls Wendy’s 1984 famous “Where’s the beef?” advertisement. Wendy’s expects this shortage to be only temporary. Over 50 percent of Tyson meat plant workers have tested positive for the coronavirus. One thousand of Wendy’s locations do not have enough beef for hamburgers. Some states are more affected by the beef shortage than others. Wendy’s is still going strong with its current breakfast menu.

The pork industry has its own problems. Eight hundred employees in the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have tested positive for the virus. The plant will partially reopen soon, with employees being screened before allowed onto the premises.

Fifty-eight percent of workers at the Tyson meat factory in Iowa tested positive for coronavirus.

President Trump has called meatpacking plants critical and essential to the country’s food supply chain. Since the end of April, 16 meatpacking plants have stopped producing meat. Over 5,000 employees nationwide have been affected by the virus. Many workers are simply not showing up for work out of fear of becoming ill.

Meat production will increase again, but perhaps in a different form and at higher prices. The question is, how expensive will meat get?