Freezer Beef Sales Explode During COVID-19 . . . Will Your Customers Be Ready to Buy Again?

Mike Estadt, OSU Extension Educator, Pickaway County

Do you know if your freezer beef customers are satisfied?

It is well documented that early in the coronavirus pandemic, major meat processing facilities across the United States became supply bottlenecks due to employee infections shutting down production.  In response to seeing less meat available in the retail case, or limits on the amount of proteins that a consumer could purchase, farm raised, direct marketed meat, especially beef, experienced high demand.

Today it is still unlikely that you can schedule the processing of a steer until the early part of 2021.  Due in part to limited space in coolers and limited workers skilled in meat processing, both custom and inspected processing facilities are struggling to meet the demand of producers wanting beef processed for direct sales to consumers.

Where is the beef supply currently and what can the consumer and local producer expect to see in the retail sector of the beef business?  Cattle coming to market are heavier, thus producing more retail product to be marketed.  Where is this beef going?  98% of beef is marketed as chilled fresh meat and the remaining 2%, mostly boneless beef trimmings and end meats, is put into commercial warehouses.  The latest USDA report indicates the total pounds of beef in cold storage were up 5% from the previous month but down 2% from last year.

With the grilling season over more than likely freezer beef customers have exhausted their supply of steaks leaving them hamburger and roasts to eat this winter.   Maybe beef councils should try a promotion for crock pot roast beef parties.  Gee, it does not have the same appeal as “come over this weekend were grilling steak”.

With eroded demand from the restaurant sector and institutional buyers one might expect to see retailers trying to push the high valued cuts through the supply chain with weekly specials.  Such is the case.  On several recent shopping trips this author has observed and purchased the following in near “hoarding” proportions.  YOUR freezer beef customers may be doing the same.

Certified Angus Beef (CAB) Boneless Ribeyes: $9.99/lb
CAB Porterhouse Steaks:                                    $9.99/lb
CAB Chuckeye Roast:                                          $2.99/lb
CAB Ground Chuck (3 lb package):                    $2.99/lb

Most spring born calves are weaned, preconditioned and may or may not be marketed.  Some may be held back to finish out for freezer beef enterprises.  Will you be able to sell as much as you did this past year, especially producers selling halves and whole beeves?  (This is a $1200-$2500 purchase at current prices).

It may be a good time before the Holiday Season to do a quick survey of your customers to gauge how much beef they will need in the coming year.  It also a nice time to say THANK YOU.  It might be worth your time to drop a card or send an email to your beef customers to gauge the demand for next year.  I have seen some local beef producers with websites, putting up customer satisfaction surveys.  Doing this will also help you determine if you need to find additional customers to replace the whole beefs that become halves and the halves that become quarters.  It will more importantly help you with scheduling with your processor.