Higher beef prices arrive for Memorial Day weekend

By , Special to the Daily Memphian Published: May 24, 2020 4:00 AM CT

If you want juicy, hamburgers right off the sizzling hot grill this Memorial Day weekend, the meat is going to cost you a whole heck of a lot more than usual.

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A pound of lean ground beef at one suburban Kroger store was priced at $5.29 on Friday afternoon, an uptick of more than a dollar a pound. A 5-lb. chub of ground beef cost $19.79, however, Kroger still offered packages of its “10 for $10” ground beef patties.

And while ground beef is a staple for Memorial Day – like turkey is for Thanksgiving – the cost of other meats is also getting a boost due to supply-chain disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The disruptions include cases of plants shuttering to disinfect facilities after workers became infected with the coronavirus and cases of plants operating at limited capacity because of social distancing requirements.

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Ben and Brittni Cowan of LaGrange, Tennessee, drove to Collierville for groceries at Kroger after telling out-of-town friends Thursday night that they’d treat them to brisket this weekend.

The Cowans had purchased eight pounds for $35, or about $4.30 a pound, and had consumed it. On Friday, they bought 10 pounds of brisket for $70, about $7 a pound.

“Now I’m kind of regretting it,” said Ben Cowan, who cleans homes with his wife. “I could have been having cheeseburgers instead.”

Kroger’s Delta Division spokeswoman said the grocery chain would not be commenting on beef prices. However, Randy Stepherson discussed the impact of the supply chain disruptions on Superlo Foods at 4744 Spottswood in East Memphis, which he owns.

All the 5-lb. ground beef packages purchased before prices surged sold, said Stepherson, president of Stepherson Inc., and he did not resupply them.

“The wholesale price escalated to $28,” he said. “I refuse to pay that.”

Instead, Superlo is selling ground beef in smaller packages this weekend.

“We purchased an entire truck load of frozen ground beef and held onto it, and we’re selling it now. We knew things were iffy, so we bought it and stored it.”

He’s selling that stored ground beef for about $4.99 a pound. He’s enacted “penny profit” thinking to keep costs down for customers as much as possible. Instead of making maybe a $1.20 profit, he’ll make something like a 60-cent profit on the beef.

“We are still selling a lot of meat, but it has slowed down,” Stepherson said. “People are going to eat meat.”

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A representative of Charlie’s Meat Market at 4790 Summer Ave. answered a call but was too busy with customers Friday to talk about Memorial Day beef and meat prices.

As for meat prices later this summer, Stepherson anticipates supply issues improving.

“I’ve been told most of the meat plants are open, about 85% of them,” Stepherson said.

Chris Hughes at Thomas Meat & Seafood Market & Catering in Collierville, however, expects disruptions to continue to impact the price of meat for eight to 16 more weeks.

Hughes was selling prime ground beef for $6.59 a pound Friday after a 30% profit margin cut.

“I started seeing the curve,” Hughes said about prices. “I bought about $50,000 worth of beef (weeks ago) … trying to keep prices low for our customers.”

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He saw fewer customers with the higher prices. However, meat eaters are finding ways to either stretch the ground beef or get alternatives. Hughes, who puts tips for extending meat supplies on the market’s Facebook page, has seen an uptick in ground chicken and ground turkey purchases.

Though he foresaw supply-chain issues coming, Hughes had to increase prices as he sold his inventory and his wholesale prices surged.

The market’s display cases looked a bit sparse Friday, but that was because of customer demand, Hughes said. A steady stream of customers visited the meat market as he spoke.

“We’re grounding,” Hughes said. “We can’t keep up.”


Superlo Foods Randy Stepherson
Toni Lepeska

Toni Lepeska

Toni Lepeska is a freelance reporter for The Daily Memphian. The 32-year veteran of newspaper journalism covers a diversity of topics, always seeking to reveal the human story behind the news. Toni, who grew up in Cayce, Mississippi, is a graduate of the University of Mississippi. To learn more, visit tonilepeska.com


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