DENVER - The past few months have stressed many supply chains in the United States, and the beef supply chain is no exception.

Despite navigating uncharted territory and facing unforeseen circumstances, including unprecedented demand swings from foodservice to retail and plant closures, the beef industry has demonstrated its resilience by adapting in extraordinary ways and continuing to produce high-quality, wholesome and delicious beef.  

Beef industry impacts and subsequent response 

The onset of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders left retailers of all sizes scrambling to keep their meat cases full as consumers began stocking up on beef and the supply chain quickly shifted to divert foodservice products to the retail channel. 

Even more strain was added to the available beef supply as processors reduced operating capacity at their facilities and temporarily closed some plants to implement updated safety measures and ensure the safety of their workers.  

While there has not been a shortage of cattle supply during the pandemic, major disruptions to the supply chain slowed the flow of cattle into processing plants. This, combined with increased demand, led to limited availability of certain beef cuts at retail and some retail operators to limit purchases to ensure the availability of beef for more customers.   

These disruptions have then led to challenging wholesale and retail price increases. 

While the past two months have been challenging, beef supply is headed in the right direction. We expect plants will continue to increase their operating capacity with the goal of getting back to full capacity as quickly as possible.  

To ensure high-quality beef remains available for operators and consumers, packers are continuing to provide supplemental protective equipment to employees, implementing additional cleaning procedures, and employing social distancing in plants. Worker safety is the paramount concern for cattle producers. In addition to the changes being implemented by packers, new relationships are being built between vendors and customers to keep product moving and help meet ongoing high consumer and operator demand. 

What’s to come 

As the foodservice segment begins to rebound, additional shifts in the supply chain will be required to ensure the availability of beef. 

Luckily, the supply chain is resilient and is already making these necessary changes. While we cannot forecast exactly what’s to come, many economic experts agree that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we’re likely past the most disruptive period of plant closures and slowdowns. That means we should see further increases in production capacity and supply in the coming weeks and months.  

Some changes that have been made to the beef supply chain are here to stay, and some may fade away. However, one constant has been the commitment of America’s beef farmers and ranchers to caring for their animals and families, those who process and deliver beef, and beef consumers, just as they have been for generations. The beef industry and our partners throughout the supply chain are doing everything possible to stabilize supply. We are facing tough times, but we are resilient and committed to working together to solve the new challenges we all face feeding American families in 2020 and beyond.  

Bridget Wasser is executive director, Meat Science, Culinary & Supply Chain, at the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff. 

This story is from the July 2020 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. To view the full magazine, click here.