Fresh meat is poised to become the new toilet paper of the pandemic.
Meat shortages are a logical prediction, given that meat-packing plants around the country are hot spots for COVID-19, tied to the close quarters and lack of social distancing in those facilities.
As a result, supermarkets are limiting the amount of meat consumers may buy at one time in an effort to stave off hoarding, as has happened with toilet paper, disinfectant, diapers, baby wipes and other items.
However, Jefferson County consumers may consider another option: Think small.
Instead of heading to the big-box supermarket or discount store, head to a small grocery or meat market or bypass the middleman directly and buy your meat at farmers markets.
Tom Kolisch, an owner of John’s Butcher Shoppee, 503 N. Mill St., in Festus, said he’s heard there might be a meat shortage just around the corner but said his store is well positioned for it.
“I think it’s because we have better relationships with our distributors than the big stores might,” he said. “On Easter Sunday, for example, I was on the phone at 11 at night placing an order. Every day, I’m constantly looking for deals.”
For the average consumer, deals on meat might be tough to come by in the near future, Kolisch said.
“I think for the next couple of weeks, it might be tough to get everything you’re looking for. It shouldn’t be a problem for us, because we’re very well stocked. But the prices are going up. That’s not us; that’s the distributors passing on their costs,” he said. “From what I hear, a lot of the meat processors are having trouble getting enough people in to work. I would say it’s not necessarily going to be that you can’t find what you’re looking for, but what are you willing to pay for it?
“What you might see shortages in are cuts that have to be boned, such as rib eyes and sirloins,” he said. “Other cuts, such as pork steaks, pork loins and ground beef, there might not be a shortage, but again, what will you be willing to pay?”
Kolisch said his store, considered an essential business and open through the pandemic, has a limit of 10 customers in the store at any time.
“We’re also bleaching our surfaces and doors regularly and encouraging our customers to practice social distancing while they’re in the store,” he said.
In an effort to ward off panic-buying, Kolisch said his store limits purchases to 10 pounds of any particular item.
“You can come back the next day and buy another 10 pounds, but we want to make sure everybody has a chance to get some,” he said.
With weather getting warmer, farmers markets are opening, and because vendors at markets typically offer their own products rather than rely on wholesalers and meat-processing facilities, they are poised to help consumers who are having trouble finding items on their shopping lists.
“I think the meat vendors at our market, as well as our other vendors, will be able to fill gaps in the food supply chain,” said Teresa Kohut, manager of the Arnold Farmers Market, which opened for the season on May 9 and will operate every Saturday through the summer and early fall at Arnold City Park.
She said she expected at least two of the 19 vendors on May 9 to be hawking fresh meat.
“We’ll be selling beef and pork and poultry and eggs – pretty much all things that people want,” she said. “How long they’ll be available, I don’t know. But I expect most of our vendors to do well.”
The Arnold market’s meat vendors are Tri-Point Farm from Hillsboro and Yesteryear Meats from Jackson.
Kohut encouraged shoppers to check out the market’s Facebook page, which has a list of the week’s vendors and ways to contact them.
The De Soto Farmers Market will open this coming Saturday with an expected 10 vendors at its location at 520 N. Main St.
“Two of them will be selling meat, perhaps a third,” said market master Cara Ahern. Oak Grove Valley Farm and Pierce County Farm, both from Hillsboro, will be the vendors, she said.
“I understand they’ve already been taking a lot of pre-purchase orders,” Ahern said.
Both Ahern and Kohut said they would entertain more meat vendors, if space is available, to fill in the slack from empty meat coolers at supermarkets.
“We give priority to our sponsoring vendors, but anyone who is selling meat, we would definitely try to find a place for them if we can,” Ahern said.
Kohut said vendors who sell staples are given priority at her market as well.
“We’re assigning spaces giving priority to sellers of meat and produce, eggs and honey and also vegetables and fruit. While it’s still early in the season, we’ll have plenty of vegetables on hand. We also will have vendors selling bread, pastries and desserts, because we all need those things, too.”
Kohut said she hopes more people will consider the options farmers markets provide.
“Patronizing our vendors at the farmers market is a chance to support our local food suppliers, which is very important,” she said, “as well as supporting our local economy.”