The nation’s largest supermarket chain is limiting how much ground beef and pork customers can buy at certain stores, citing hoarding by consumers and uncertain supplies.
A Kroger spokesperson said that “there is plenty of protein in the supply chain. However, some processors are experiencing challenges.” Some meat plants have faced temporary closures due to outbreaks of the Wuhan virus, but Kroger reassured people, saying, “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.”
CNN reported that “meat sales are up around 40% in recent weeks, according to data shared by grocery industry trade group FMI.” Add that to the occasional disruption to the supply chains, and you have an unfamiliar sight in America’s grocery stores: Shelves that aren’t always brimming with fresh product.
President Trump signed an executive order last Tuesday requiring meat plants to stay open during the crisis, but that doesn’t mean we won’t suffer future disruptions. The day before, Tyson Meats had taken out an ad in the Washington Post warning that “the food chain is breaking.” Our managing editor Paula Bolyard told me this morning that her Cleveland-area son is “scrambling to find beef for his Jersey Mike’s store,” because “their supplier is closed due to COVID-19.” She wonders if the situation at Jersey Mike’s is just “the tip of the iceberg.”
However, supermarket “guru” Phil Lempert assured consumers last week that there’s no need to hoard: “It’s true that we’re down to about 60% capacity in our meat processing facilities, again across all of those types of animal proteins, but it will come back, it will come back soon.”
Here in my little exurb of Monument, Colorado, I haven’t seen any purchase limits on beef or pork products since the second week of the Virus Insanity Shut-In Time at any of our three grocery stores. Those include King Soopers (owned by Kroger), plus Safeway, and Walmart. However, Albertson’s, another large chain, is also limiting some meat purchases to two per customer, per visit and explained: “We are not experiencing any shortages and do not anticipate any issues with supply or product availability. We did so to prevent the possibility of panic-buying and help ensure more of our neighbors can find the products they need.” Along similar lines, Costco says that “Fresh meat purchases are temporarily limited to a total of 3 items per member among the beef, pork, and poultry products.”
Associated Press reports that Walmart customers might find some specialty items like marinated steaks or sliced meat out of stock, but that the company is “working with suppliers to streamline products to ensure meats such as chicken and ground beef are available to customers.”
Not being able to get exactly what you want or as much as you might want to stash away in a chest freezer doesn’t mean anyone is going to starve. As I wrote at Instapundit at the end of March, “As a big exporter, I expect we’ll be fine aside from some temporary disruptions as producers and distributors acclimate to the new-but-temporary normal.” That still seems to be the case five weeks later, although given how many state governments have extended their stay-at-home orders, “temporary” doesn’t feel as temporary as it once did.
So perhaps no one is starving, but there’s something damnably unAmerican about purchase limits and a lack of variety. We’re a wealthy, consumer-driven country whose supermarkets have long been the envy of the world. Back when the Soviet Union was still a thing — an evil, vile thing — future Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited an American grocery store in Texas:
It was September 16, 1989 and Yeltsin, then newly elected to the new Soviet parliament and the Supreme Soviet, had just visited Johnson Space Center.
At JSC, Yeltsin visited mission control and a mock-up of a space station. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Stefanie Asin, it wasn’t all the screens, dials, and wonder at NASA that blew up his skirt, it was the unscheduled trip inside a nearby Randall’s location.
Yeltsin, then 58, “roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement,” wrote Asin. He told his fellow Russians in his entourage that if their people, who often must wait in line for most goods, saw the conditions of U.S. supermarkets, “there would be a revolution.”
Soviet serfs had to apply their skills to knowing which hours-long line to stand in just to get a piece of questionable beef. American citizens apply their skills at jobs that pay enough that we know the stores will be filled with pretty much whatever we want, day after day.
Yeltsin said back then, “Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev.” But I wonder, What would Yeltsin say today? Maybe that there ought to be a revolt in this country so we can get back to the dynamism and lifestyles we’ve worked so hard to achieve.