Beef is piling up in cold storage facilities across the nation despite processing slowdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service reported this month that cold storage stocks of beef reached 490 million pounds in April. That’s 13.9 percent higher than one year ago and 6 percent higher than the five-year average. Meanwhile, the amount of boneless beef in cold storage rose to 459 million — a year-over-year increase of 15.8 percent.
An Unanticipated Increase
This increase in beef stock is surprising because it comes as the beef industry is experiencing month-to-month supply declines. Some beef processing facilities were temporarily closed during COVID-19 lockdowns. Others experienced worker shortages or even, in some cases, coronavirus outbreaks at their facilities.
These processing problems resulted in lower slaughter numbers. That, plus limited retail supply, caused beef prices to climb sharply in recent weeks.
“Coming into this report there was a lot of speculation that high prices would result in a sharp pullback in cold storage,” Steiner Consulting Group said in its May 22 Daily Livestock Report. “That was not the case.”
Foodservice Falls Flat
The Steiner report attributed increased inventories of boneless beef to “a direct result of the slowdown in foodservice demand” from restaurants, cafeterias and other establishments closed or limited by the coronavirus. But even though boneless beef began to accumulate in freezers, it was not able to easily be repackaged or repurposed for grocery shelves.
“Frozen inventories could do little to ease spot retail shortages,” the report said.
Like beef, chicken stock was up 6 percent over last year and 14 percent higher than the five-year average. Again, according to the Steiner report, the collapse in foodservice demand drove the increase, causing boneless/skinless chicken breast inventory to climb 8 percent over March and 33 percent higher than the year before.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture