May 31—Memorial Day is usually the kickoff to the grilling season, but high meat prices may have those in the Miami Valley grilling less expensive meats or no meat all together.
Melissa Metzger, owner and butcher at Zinks Meat and Fine Wines in Centerville, said meat prices now are higher than ever.
Before the pandemic, Metzger said she could buy beef tenderloin for about $10 a pound. Today, Metzger said beef tenderloin costs about $28 a pound.
"It's more than we were selling them for at Christmastime," Metzger said.
Metzger said high meat prices have hurt business. The more prices go up, the less willing customers are to buy meat. Customers who typically bought the best cut of meat are now buying less expensive cuts, like ground chuck, she said.
Metzger said this year has been the lowest month of meat sales in May in three years.
"I think if prices don't come down, people will be grilling less expensive meats this summer, like hotdogs or hamburgers when they'd normally grill a more expensive cut," Metzger said.
High feed costs, increased demand and changes in the supply chain have driven up prices for wholesale meats and poultry. According to the USDA's May report, cattle prices are now expected to increase between 5% and 8%; wholesale beef prices are predicted to increase between 1.5% and 4.5%, compared to a 1.5% to 4.5% decrease predicted last month; wholesale pork prices are predicted to increase between 8.5% and 11.5%; and wholesale poultry prices are predicted to increase between 13% and 16%.
According to data from the USDA, the average retail prices for all uncooked ground beef this April, about $4.65 per pound, was higher than it was last April, at $4.55 per pound. The price for a pound of uncooked ground beef in April 2019 was $4.19.
Metzger said nobody in the industry sees prices coming down. There are supply chain issues, like a shortage of workers.
Mike Miller, who is a food service supplier for several area stores, like Copey's in Medway and Greg's All Natural Meats in Springboro, as well as hotels and restaurants, said meat prices are "a nightmare" right now.
"I've been in this business 40-some years, and in all my years, I have never seen what's going on right now," Miller said from Greg's All Natural Meats on Friday. "I have never seen prices like this. There are always ups and downs with price, but we're not getting a whole lot of downs right now."
Miller said some items are hard to find because of a variety of supply chain issues. Miller said that with states taking away the extra unemployment, he hopes workers will start to get back into meat plants and the market will regulate.
Mark Jacobs, a supply management professor at the University of Dayton, said meat packaging plants were hit hard during COVID with closures and staff getting the coronavirus.
"When you end up with a bunch of workers that end up getting sick with COVID, you see meat packing plants going in and out of production as their staff battles various waves of the virus," Jacobs said. "And then, now they're battling finding employees."
Jacobs said butchers', meat packing plants and farmers are seeing the same issues getting workers right now.
"It's a hard job. It's an unpleasant job. Sometimes the smells are not pleasant. It can be physically taxing. You can have challenges with folks who will stay with the unemployment or they can go work for Amazon and make $17 an hour."
Younes Mazouz, owner of Xenia Meats, said he gets all his cows from a farm in New Carlisle and prices seem to be about average. Mazouz said he processes, dry ages and then breaks down the meat into different cuts at his shop. He recently started selling frozen and fresh meat retail.
He is able to keep costs down because he does everything at his shop himself from the time the cows come through the back door.
"If you're buying something at Kroger, it's already broken down all the way. It's less work for you because by the time it has gotten there, it's been through so many other steps," he said.
Mazouz said his small shop on Brush Row Road is having some issues hiring employees because it is a highly trained job and is hard work.
Truckers, who transport the meat, are also seeing the same problem. Jacobs said the field typically has a high turnover rate, but the pandemic has exacerbated those issues. As labor costs go up and the cost to transport meat goes up, the price of meat increases, Jacobs said. Fuel prices tend to go up during the summer as more people travel, so that will play a role in higher transportation costs as well.
The droughts out West could also have an impact on local meat prices because the droughts are causing corn and soybeans, which can be used as feed for cattle and other livestock, to become more expensive.
Jacobs said swings in the supply chain have been much more dramatic since the pandemic started, and will continue to be throughout the summer.
"Everything's just crazy. It's like a whole new world right now," he said.
Metzger said she's seen first hand that prices are fluctuating more than normal, she said. Prices are changing by a few dollars in a couple of days, compared to changing by a few cents in a couple of weeks.
"I'm spending my whole day printing price stickers," Metzger said.
Metzger said because of this, she would advise those hoping to grill out this summer to buy meat in bulk before prices get higher.
Zinks is more impacted by price fluctuations than large grocery stores, because the store mainly sells meat. Metzger said the business doesn't have many other products to cushion the up and down prices.
Mike Janow, co-owner at Copey's Butcher Shop in Medway, said he's seeing the same thing. After being down for a short time, beef prices are going back up, he said. Prices of other thing, like corn, are up across the board. Janow said Copey's got two shipments of meat in this past week. The second was priced higher than the one they got a few days prior.
Meat prices do typically go up around Memorial Day, Janow said, but meat prices hadn't quite come down from 2020 highs and they typically don't fluctuate quite this frequently.
"We've been up and down for the past year and a half. Prices were high earlier in the pandemic because it was hard to get some stuff. When the prices go down, we are lowering our prices with that," Janow said. "We are not trying to make this a permanent cost. We don't want people to feel like we're gouging them."