Meat gets rarer in the grocery aisle and the drive-thru

click to enlarge Meat gets rarer in the grocery aisle and the drive-thru
Jessica Pettway/The New York Times
Hundreds of Wendy’s restaurants aren’t serving hamburgers and grocery stores are limiting meat purchases, as shoppers begin to feel the impact of meatpacking plant shutdowns.
By David Yaffe-Bellany and Michael Corkery
The New York Times Company

Hundreds of Wendy’s restaurants have run out of hamburgers. Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the United States, is limiting the amount of ground beef and pork that customers can buy at some stores. And Costco, where shoppers typically buy in bulk, has placed a three-product cap on purchases of fresh beef, poultry and pork.

Over the last month, dozens of meatpacking plants across the country have shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks, raising concerns about the country’s meat supply. Now, the impact of those disruptions is reaching customers at grocery stores like Wegmans and Hy-Vee and fast-food drive-thrus, where certain meat products are becoming harder to find.

On Monday, nearly one-fifth of Wendy’s restaurants — a total of 1,043 locations — were completely sold out of beef products, including burgers, according to analysis by the financial firm Stephens, which examined the online menu at every Wendy’s in the United States.

“It is widely known that beef suppliers across North America are currently facing production challenges,” a Wendy’s spokesman said in a statement Tuesday. “Some of our menu items may be temporarily limited at some restaurants in this current environment.”

Over the last few days, a series of grocery stores have announced limits on meat purchases. In addition to Costco and Kroger, Hy-Vee said on Tuesday that it would restrict customers to four packages of fresh beef, ground beef, pork and chicken.

Stores are also anticipating that certain products may become more difficult to find. A Wegmans spokeswoman, Laura Camera, said Tuesday that the chain “may not have every product cut or variety available for the next few weeks.”

The impact on the fast-food industry has been more uneven. McDonald’s said on Tuesday that it had not experienced any beef shortages.

Wendy’s reliance on fresh beef — a major selling point for the brand — may make it more vulnerable to shortages than some rivals.

Still, grocery executives say the shortages are only temporary and that most meat remains available, even if certain products have become more scarce. In recent weeks, some meatpacking facilities have reopened.

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