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Eight Ways to Reassure Consumers the U.S. Meat Supply Chain is Secure

Midan Marketing

Reading Time: 3 minutes
As we all continue to struggle with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that meat and poultry processors are focusing all their efforts on ensuring worker safety while keeping the lines running to meet retail demand.

Unfortunately, with panic buying and major plant shutdowns dominating today’s headlines, it’s easy for the public to conclude that our usually-robust meat supply is in jeopardy of dwindling.

As always, the best weapon we have against fear is facts. The industry as whole needs to take charge and clearly communicate to consumers — millennials in particular — that even though our meat production system is experiencing significant disruption, we are not running out of meat for consumers to purchase.

That’s why Midan Marketing’s Customer Insights Team is sharing the following list of talking points to help you reassure a nervous public and beleaguered industry things aren’t as dire as they may seem.

1. There is plenty of meat ready to enter the supply chain.

  • Before COVID-19, producers had raised record numbers of hogs and cattle in 2020 to meet rising consumer demand.
  • Commercial beef was expected to reach 27.5 billion pounds in 2020 — almost 1% greater than 2019’s record numbers.
  • Pork was expected to reach a record 28.6 billion pounds in 2020 (up 3.8% from 2019).

2. There are significant inventories of meat in cold storage waiting to be distributed.

  • As of February 2020, USDA data shows 662 million pounds of U.S. pork supplies in cold storage — up 7.5% from February 2019.
  • “Refrigerated inventories remain robust across the U.S. and most plants remain open.” — Bloomberg.com, 4/13/20
  • “The reduced production so far has been offset by the significant amount of meat that was in cold storage…” — Glynn Tonsor, agricultural economist, Kansas State University

3. Processors have implemented additional facility cleaning and worker safety protocols.

To combat COVID-19 outbreaks, meat industry operations have:

  • Intensified cleaning of plants and/or extended plant cleaning shifts
  • Increased employee health/ temperature screening
  • Added plastic barriers between workstations
  • Prohibited visitors
  • Increased pay for those working during this crisis time
  • Implemented paying workers while plants are down
  • Increased flexibility for workers to keep their jobs if unable to work

4. Processors are working to increase productivity and are hiring additional workers to keep production lines running.

  • In April 2020, the USDA granted several processors waivers to run predominantly automated lines with few workers at higher speeds.
  • Reducing labor-intensive specialty and further value added processing including flavor-added and de-boned product will help increase production to keep up with consumer demand.
  • Displaced, foodservice and distribution workers are being redeployed in the packing and retail sectors.

5. Food transportation regulations have been relaxed to increase speed to market.

  • Restrictions on driver hours-of-service and truck weight regulations have been eased or suspended to get more product into stores faster.

6. Meat selection may look different than consumers are used to seeing in stores.

  • The USDA has relaxed food labeling regulations so foodservice products can be sold at retail.
  • More specialty and foodservice cuts will show up in the meat case as they’re diverted to retail.
  • Faster processing will mean fewer specialty cuts and less de-boned product available in retail stores.

7. The price of meat is going to be more relevant than usual.

  • Record unemployment and market uncertainty will make consumers (especially hard-hit millennials) more cost-conscious.
  • Cuts that have low cost/high value are likely to be more in demand.
  • There will be more costly cuts in the meat case, cuts that typically go to foodservice.

8. Consumers will need to learn how to cook the new variety of cuts available at retail.

  • Many consumers are unfamiliar with cuts outside of grinds, chops and steaks
  • The industry will require creative solutions including social media, brand partnerships and other educational initiatives to help consumers learn to select, cook and get the maximum yield out of these cuts.

What can you do to help?

Create an action plan to communicate these facts to consumers:

  • Increase social media communication
  • Provide how-to advice for large sub-primal cuts
  • Partner with retailers so butchers and meat managers can speak intelligently to consumers
  • Develop an online product-volume shipping tracker

While there are — and will doubtlessly continue to be — unexpected changes in the supply chain, we hope sharing these talking points will help you assure your customers, the news media and the public at large that the future of the U.S. meat supply remains safe, reliable and secure.

Learn More

If you want to communicate more effectively with your consumers and the media during a crisis, Midan can help. Contact us to discuss messaging that both informs and instills trust.