Supermarkets are beginning to impose limits on meat purchases in response to temporary shutdowns at beef, pork and poultry processing plants in Minnesota and across the country.
In the Twin Cities, Costco currently is the only retailer with an across-the-board limiting of regularly priced beef, pork and poultry, to three per Costco member. Hy-Vee announced Tuesday it would start limited meat purchases to four per customer starting Wednesday.
In other markets, Albertsons is limiting customers to two meat items in some stores and Kroger — as well as its brands Ralph’s and Food 4 Less — is restricting purchases of ground beef and pork.
Most other Minnesota retailers are not following Costco’s lead on non-sale items, at least for now. But supermarket operators say they will implement limits on specials or in individual stores if the supply is low at a given time.
Cub says its stores reserve the right to set limits in order to prevent excessive purchases. “We are asking customers looking to make a bulk purchase of meat to limit their purchases to match the needs of their family,” said Darren Caudill, vice president of sales, merchandising and marketing at Cub.
During Cub’s current buy-one-get-one-free sale on pork, for example, it limits customers to two free packages.
Hy-Vee is instituting the new policy because of employee shortages at meat processing plants and rising sales of meat, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.
Retailers say they are not experiencing serious shortages right now. Rather, it’s because they want to discourage the hoarding that started in March for meat, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, pasta and soup.
Meatpacking plants across the U.S. have closed because of COVID-19 cases. But after an executive order by President Donald Trump last week telling meat plants to reopen, the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., started taking steps to do so on Monday. The JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minn., will reopen on Wednesday, union officials said.
Meanwhile, local retailers say customers are buying more meat. Lunds & Byerlys’ meat sales last week were double what they were a year ago.
“While supply remains strong from many of our key partners, we have re-implemented limits on some meat items,” spokesman Aaron Sorenson said in an e-mail. “Those limits vary by store depending upon each store’s current supply levels, and they are put in place to help ensure more customers have access to those products.”
Target is not placing any limits on meat purchases at this time, spokesman Joshua Thomas said.
Hy-Vee also plans business as usual in its meat departments. “We have not previously, and are not limiting meat purchases,” said spokeswoman Christina Gayman.
Some retailers such as Coborn’s have added limits on promotional items mostly. “Coborn’s reserves the right to limit quantities when necessary but do this on an item-by-item, store-by-store basis,” said Dennis Host, vice president of marketing.
Caudill, Cub’s vice president, said that consumers can expect some meat product disruption for a few weeks.
“We also anticipate price fluctuations as meat costs are commodity-driven and adjust based on current supply and consumer demand,” he said. “There may be some limitations in procuring certain brands while the markets work to recover and stabilize.”