Apr 16, 2020 - Economy

Stores struggle to fill meat demand as coronavirus hits processing plants

A person shopping in the meat section of a grocery store in Miami.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Supermarkets are struggling to meet growing consumer demand for meat as the coronavirus impacts workers at processing plants across the United States, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Industry leaders say COVID-19 is forcing thousands of plant workers to remain at home, meaning meat suppliers must reduce the volume and variety of cuts they sell to stores.

  • A Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is among the latest to close, after at least 644 cases of the virus have been traced back to the facility.
  • It accounts for 4–5% of all pork production in the U.S. and employs approximately 3,700 workers.

The big picture: Meat sales have jumped by 30% over the past month at B&R Stores, a Midwestern grocery chain, as suppliers are filling only about 75% of meat orders, company president Mark Griffin told the WSJ.

  • Smithfield announced on Thursday it will temporarily close another two plants — one in Wisconsin and another in Missouri — because of the virus, the Star Tribune reports.

What they're saying: "For Americans who ... may be worried about access to good food because of this, I want to assure you: The American food supply is strong, resilient and safe," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Wednesday in a White House press conference.

  • Perdue also announced this week that the Trump administration plans to buy milk and meat from farmers to help them weather the impact of the outbreak, per Reuters.

Go deeper: Stresses on food supply chains are causing empty supermarket shelves

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