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This beef problem will affect Fresno's grocery stores, restaurants and taco trucks

Fresno Bee logoFresno Bee 5/7/2020 By Manuela Tobias and Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee

Some fast food chains have struggled to find enough ground beef for their cheeseburgers since the coronavirus infected thousands of meatpacking workers across the nation.

Local grocery store shelves may be next.

During a news conference Wednesday, ranchers and grocers said the meat industry in California was experiencing a bottleneck. While the beef supply remains stable, shuttered meatpacking plants are making it challenging to get the meat from pastures to stores and restaurants.

“There’s no shortage,” said Dave Daley, president chair of the California Cattle Council. “There’s lots of meat. Our problem is the processing piece.”

Over 10,800 meatpacking workers around the country have contracted the coronavirus, and at least 45 have died, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Dozens of plants have shut down over the last month.

At least 138 cases have been tied to a meatpacking plant in the San Joaquin Valley.

As barbecue season approaches, grocery stores may see higher prices and fewer options on specific cuts of meat, like boneless steaks.

Chelsea Minor, a spokeswoman for grocery chain Raley’s, said they already have seen “prices increase slightly.” With warm weather, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day coming up, she expects meat prices will continue to climb.

To avoid a surge in prices, Minor recommended that buyers have patience. If too many people flock to the stores to panic buy, as they did with toilet paper, the spike could be even higher.

She said people should be flexible with the brands they buy, and the cuts. She encouraged the purchase of frozen meats and the replacement of ground beef with roasts.

“We recognize that (de-boning) takes additional work as it relates to the processing facilities, and some of them don’t have the time to do that. So don’t be afraid of a bone. Don’t be afraid to try something different in that regard. Roast meat, stew meat is something we’re looking for.”

Save Mart Supermarkets public affairs manager Victoria Castro said they were monitoring the situation daily.

“We are working with local suppliers to identify opportunities to ensure consistency of our product availability,” she said.

Fast food restaurants also are feeling the squeeze.

The financial firm Stephens Inc. recently examined the online menu at every Wendy’s restaurants in the United States and found that nearly one in five of the restaurants nationwide, and one in ten in California, had sold out of beef.

A Wendy’s spokesperson said in a statement that while beef suppliers across North America face production challenges, the company continues to supply hamburgers to all of its restaurants. It makes deliveries of beef two to three times a week.

“However, some of our menu items may be in short supply from time to time at some restaurants in this current environment,” the spokesperson said. “We’re working diligently to minimize the impact to our customers and restaurants, and continue to work with our supplier partners to monitor this closely.”

Fresno taco truck owner Chris Garcia said the hiccups in the beef supply chain have caused him to raise his prices by 25 cents.

Garcia said he was left with little choice because his meat supplier bumped up the price by $1.50 a pound.

“And it adds up fast when you are buying 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of Asada meat a week,” said Garcia, owner of 559 Street Tacos.

Garcia has also switched from the premium cuts of beef he was buying for his tacos and burritos to cheaper cuts.

For the most part, he said his customers don’t mind because they know it’s a temporary problem.

“Once this situation works itself out, we will go back to buying the finest quality meat,” Garcia said. “We have picky customers who wait a long time for their food. And when they get their order, they want it to be perfect.”


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