Where’s the beef? As America’s meat shortage ramps up, Baton Rouge specialty grocery and food stores are asking this very question.
Though this year was originally predicted to be one of the record high years for red meat production, coronavirus outbreaks at some of the country’s largest processing facilities have led to a ripple effect of meat shortages. Popular fast-food chains like Wendy’s have made headlines as they’ve even removed burgers from menus at certain locations because of increased beef prices.
Owners and managers at meat specialty shops around Baton Rouge, including Tramonte’s Meat and Seafood Market, Hebert’s Specialty Meats and Chris’s Specialty Foods, talked to 225 Dine about soaring prices, difficulty meeting customer demand and struggles to turn profits.
Mike Tramonte, owner and butcher at Tramonte’s, says his business hasn’t been able to get all the cuts of beef it needs. In fact, it’s lucky to even get a portion of it.
“What we can get, the prices have been escalated pretty high,” Tramonte adds. “We’ve seen stuff doubling in price. We’re still able to keep the case full; just some of the stuff that we sell a lot of, we’re having a hard time getting a lot of. For instance, ribeyes are really hard to get.”
Tramonte doesn’t expect to run out of meat entirely, maybe just certain cuts or types. And as prices increase, his business has tried to keep prices of other items down as a courtesy to customers.
“Hopefully this doesn’t last long. Obviously you can’t make that type of profit that you need to generate, but at the same time, you don’t want to kill the customer with the price,” Tramonte says. “A lot of [customers] are having trouble with work, cut hours and so on, then they’ve got to go in and pay high prices to eat. We try to keep [our prices] down as much as we can.”
Hebert’s Specialty Meats, which typically produces 600-900 pounds of boudin per week, is struggling to find all the pork it needs—and it’s having to adapt to some of the highest prices it’s seen all year.
“[Meat] has gone up in price significantly,” says Zack LeLeu, general manager of Hebert’s Prairieville and Jefferson Highway locations. “Which is pushing me to go up in prices as well—and nobody likes that.”
It may take LeLeu a day or two later to restock items the shop has run out of, and he is aware this may frustrate customers.
“When I tell them about the meat shortage, they’re surprised and know nothing about it,” he says. “I hope people understand we’re here and doing our best. But just like everything else, we need people’s cooperation to do the best that we can.”
Just over the last five days, prices of beef from vendors has increased and, in some cases doubled, according to Tressy Leindecker of Chris’s Specialty Foods. Leindecker meets with her vendors on Mondays, and she says there are items vendors are unable to provide in large enough quantities to Chris’s at the moment, such as steaks and brisket. Brisket is usually popular this time of year, thanks to outdoor summer barbecues. Costs are normally around $2-$3 per pound, but the price has now doubled to $7-$8.
“In the last several days, [prices] have escalated and risen to a price point to where we have no other choice than to pass that onto our customers,” Leindecker says.
Chris’s has been able to keep its shelves mostly stocked. When the shop does run out of a product, Leindecker says customers have been understanding about the situation. She is hopeful that over the next 30-45 days, the supply chains will see some normalcy.
“It may come to where we’re all eating chicken for a while, until the beef bounces back,” Tramonte says. “But that’s the worst of it that I can see.”