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Where’s the Beef? Wendy’s, Costco Run Low on Meat.

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Costco now limits buyers to three items of beef, pork, and poultry. Signs at Wendy’s alert customers that some menu items might be out of stock.

“The food supply chain is breaking.” — Tyson Foods

What in the name of COVID-19 is going on?

“The food supply chain is breaking,” says Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest food companies.

Tyson ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times and other newspapers Sunday warning that as ” pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain.”

Idled Capacity, Coronavirus Outbreaks

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds represents South Dakota, which is home to many meat processing plants, including Smithfield Foods.

In a statement to GV Wire sent Tuesday, he said, “Because of COVID-19 outbreaks, many meat processing facilities have closed down.”

The senator estimates that as of May 1, 25% of the nation’s beef packing capacity and 40% of pork packing capacity was idle — and at risk of getting worse.

“Once the fear gets out into the community, and people start to do the same thing to the meat supplies as they did to toilet paper, you’re going to see the shelves bare fairly quickly,” Rounds said.

Photo of an empty meat shelf at an Atlanta supermarket

A meat case at a Publix Super Market in Atlanta is mostly empty of chicken on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. This Publix store is limiting shoppers to two packages of chicken, like a number of other grocery retailers due to supply concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Associated Press/Jeff Amy)

Trump’s Executive Order

Rounds sent a letter to President Trump asking for help and he responded by invoking the Defense Production Act and declaring meat processing plants “critical infrastructure.”

Portrait of South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds

Once the fear gets out into the community, and people start to do the same thing to the meat supplies as they did to toilet paper, you’re going to see the shelves bare fairly quickly.” — Sen. Mike Rounds, (R-South Dakota) 

Under the president’s Executive Order, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is directed to make certain America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible.

This means that the industry will be able to reengage employees, under the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to make sure processing plants can be reopened safely and efficiently.

But the unions fired back, saying the White House was jeopardizing lives and prioritizing cold cuts over workers’ health.

The order, which was developed in consultation with industry leaders including Tyson and Smithfield, provides companies with additional liability protections in case workers get sick.

Wendy’s Response

In a statement to GV Wire, Wendy’s corporate communication team wrote:

“It is widely known that beef suppliers across North America are currently facing production challenges. We continue to supply hamburgers to all of our restaurants, with deliveries two or three times a week, which is consistent with normal delivery schedules.

“However, some of our menu items may be temporarily limited at some restaurants in this current environment. We’re working diligently to minimize the impact to our customers and restaurants, and continue to work with our supplier partners to monitor this closely.”

The Wendy’s at West Shaw and North El Capitan avenues in Fresno posted a photo at their drive-through alerting customers to supply challenges.

“Some of our menu items may be temporarily limited at some restaurants in this current environment.” – Wendy’s corporate statement

Analyst Says Wendy’s Is More Exposed Than Others

The financial services firm Stephens sent GV Wire a statement with insight into Wendy’s situation.

“The Stephens data team analyzed the online menu of every Wendy’s nationwide, and we discovered that 18% of units have listed all beef items as out of stock,” reads part of Stephens’ analysis. “Wendy’s is more exposed than others given its famous focus on fresh beef.”

The statement also said that the supply issues are not uniform across the country.

“Given the geographic nature of processing plant closures and other factors, some states are enjoying full menus at all stores, while other states like OH, MI, TN, CT, NY have 30%+ of stores that are fully out of fresh beef.”

Stephens broke down data by each state. In California, 23 Wendy’s locations are completely out of beef.

Costco Limits Meat Purchases

In a statement posted to its website, Costco says, “Fresh meat purchases are temporarily limited to a total of 3 items per member among the beef, pork and poultry products.”

Sign at the River Park Costco temporarily limits meat purchases. (GV Wire)

Costco’s statement goes on to say, “Costco has implemented limits on certain items to help ensure more members are able to purchase merchandise they want and need. Our buyers and suppliers are working hard to provide essential, high demand merchandise as well as everyday favorites.”

Ag Secretary Sends Letter to Governors

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Tuesday night sent letters to governors and leaders of major meat processing companies.

“USDA expects state and local officials to work with these critical meat processing facilities to maintain operational status while protecting the health of their employees,” Perdue said. “Meat processing facilities are critical infrastructure and are essential to the national security of our nation. Keeping these facilities operational is critical to the food supply chain and we expect our partners across the country to work with us on this issue.”