As temporary shutdowns at meatpacking plants across the nation rise and large chain grocery stores limit meat purchases, small-town meat processing plants and markets gain new customers.
At the beginning of this year, a two-month wait to have a cow or hog slaughtered would have been the norm. Now, many small processing plants in Kansas are booked through the beginning of 2021.
“It’s insane,” said Cassey Shupe, one of the owners of Holton Meat Processing in Holton. “It’s brought out the best in people. It’s brought out the worst in people.”
More and more ranchers are bringing their animals in for slaughter — some for the first time. As the nation’s large processing plants are slowing down production lines because of protective processes for workers, they are in need of fewer animals. Some ranchers are turning to small operations for help.
In addition, the large uptick in locally raised beef and hog sales direct from the ranch to their consumers has also increased, causing the longer wait for slaughter.
“It’s nuts,” said Jeff Krehbiels, the owner of Krehbiels Specialty Meats in McPherson. “Our sales (in the retail store) are up by 200%.”
Krehbiels, like Holton Meat, is booked through 2021, but like Holton Meat, its shelves remain full. Although Holton Meat is not limiting meat, pork or poultry, Krehbiels and Jackson Meat in Hutchinson have placed a few restrictions on specialty cuts.
“We’re setting a small restriction so everybody has a fair chance at getting the product,” said Drew Bryan, the owner of Jackson Meat, which does not butcher, but sells beef, pork, chicken and bison cuts. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in retail customer sales.”
Ranchers are also feeling the crunch. If they can’t get their animals to slaughter quickly enough, they can’t sell their meat directly to the consumer and they will have to keep feeding the animals, creating an extra expense.
Julia Strnad, of Strnad Land & Cattle in Wellington, has had increased calls for her Charolais beef. She hopes she can get enough slots at the processing plant she uses, Stroot Lockers in Mulvane.
As of Thursday, White’s Foodliner, a Kansas grocery chain, which has stores in Kingman, Medicine Lodge, Phillipsburg, Scott City and St. John, is not yet feeling the pinch. But the grocery chain is taking precautions.
“We’ve limited sales to three chicken, three beef and three pork products,” said Steve Witty, manager of the Kingman Foodliner. “We don’t want it to get like the toilet paper thing where people from Hutchinson and Wichita drive out to get our products.”
Witty feels confident that taking these precautions will help his customers continue to have the meat products they need.
Hy-Vee, Dillons Food Stores and Costco Wholesale have all temporarily limited the amount of meat customers may purchase.
“There is plenty of protein in the supply chain; however, some processors are experiencing challenges,” said Sheila Lowrie, a spokesperson for Dillons Food Stores. “At this time, we’ve added temporary purchase limits on fresh ground beef, poultry and pork to ensure all customers continue to have access to these products.”
Holton’s Meat, Krehbiel’s Specialty Meat and Jackson Meat are seeing all their products — from briskets to bacon to chopped meat — get purchased at the same rate.
“It’s an eye opener to the public to know where everything (meat and poultry) comes from,” Shupe said. “It’s not made in the grocery store.”