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Sign of the Times? The Rising Costs Associated With Coronavirus

Updated on May 19, 2020
Mr Archer profile image

I have worked from the ground up in retail and grocery and have won awards for my insight into customer merchandising methods.

Security tabs on frozen meat. I never thought I'd see the day.
Security tabs on frozen meat. I never thought I'd see the day. | Source

I went shopping yesterday...

At that Big Box Retailer we all hate but still shop at. We have to because they ran everyone else out of business (well, almost everyone). During the past six weeks, during the coronavirus pandemic, I have paid very close attention to the retail stores and their ability to refill shelves in a manner that I have grown accustomed to over the years. While working for that retailer, one of the primary things we had pounded into our heads was "Fill the shelves! Keep them full at all times! An empty shelf means a customer leaves without spending their money here and they will spend it elsewhere! Fill the shelves!"

If a District or Regional Manager came in and saw a hole, they would actually lie down in it (if it was big enough) and literally have their picture taken in order to shame you and your manager, from Department Manager to Assistant to Co-Manager to Store Manager. God help you if that happened.

But if a Home Office person came in and saw that, you just might get your walking papers on the spot. Seriously, on the spot.

It is a different story today...

But today, during this pandemic, things are significantly different. Outs (holes on the shelves due to not having any backstock) are commonplace, leading to the associates filling these holes with whatever they can find. Mods (modulars, or plan-o-grams, schematics and drawings of how to set the sidecounters/shelves) are out the window. In our local store, the pasta aisle has lost 67% of its sidecounter space, from 12' down to 4'. The canned vegetables are down from almost 20' to a mere 8' while the meat counter...

Oh, the meat counter.

In the bunker area (stand alone coolers and freezers one shops in from the top) which usually contains fresh meat, ready to eat items like smoked turkey drumsticks, hams and such, our local store now has fresh vegetables like corn, lettuce and such. Y'know, salad stuff for rabbits and vegans (are they really from Venus?). Not my taste at all. But they do not have sufficient meats to fill that portion of the bunker area.

And in the beef section I received the shock of my life. No hamburger whatsoever. None. No 73/27; no 80/20 chuck; no 85/15; no 93/7 lean. There were a handful of Angus patties, and some grass fed bison but no beef hamburger at all.

There is some ground fresh turkey and chicken, but they were priced where the 73/27 used to be, around $3.00 per pound. Frozen ground turkey was only $1.66 per pound,so I grabbed a few of those in order to make white chili, tacos, or something similar.

Today, I went to the only other supermarket/grocery store in town, the next closest being 20 miles or so away. It is one that is employee owned and usually priced higher on almost everything. I can sometimes find a bargain, if I look closely and I do enjoy shopping at a place that advertises itself as employee owned, but I find it troublesome to pay such high prices which result in my money just not going as far. But today, I almost fainted.

The local, employee owned store prices...

Last week, while shopping there, I saw ground chuck (80/20) was priced at $5.99 per pound, more than I was comfortable paying. A chub at the Big Box Retailer had been running $9.99 for a 3# package; a 5# chub was $14.99. When 'Rona hit these prices went to $11.99 for 3# and $16.99 for 5#. As there were none available I had gone to the local employee owned store to see what they had.

Well, they had ground chuck! For $5.99 per pound! That would equate out to almost $18 for a 3# package for what I had been paying $10! Seriously?!

I should have bought all I could last week. Today, the very same package was running $7.99 per pound. $8 per pound! Just a few weeks ago that was the price of a ribeye, or a KC Strip steak; now that is what hamburger cost?!

But that's not all: I chanced to look at a chuck roast, decent looking, nothing great. I recall selling those back 15 years ago for as little as $2.99 per pound and have watched them rise over the years until they have been running $4.99 to $6.99 per pound. Well, today I saw a 2.5# Chuck Roast for $25.00! $10.00 per pound!

How can anyone afford that?

I call it "Price Gouging"...

Price Gouging. That's what I call it: taking advantage of a situation and charging far more than it deserves or is worth. Like the brothers a few weeks ago caught selling their illicit stash of hand santitizer for dollars on the dime, these stores are charging escalating prices for common cuts of meat because the supply is becoming limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. People are buying up supplies, even as the manufacturing plants which supply these items are shutting down because their workers are being diagnosed with coronavirus and unable to work. Plants are shutting down despite the President telling them to open up and work.

If you do not have workers, how can you produce anything?

Another thing I am not understanding in this crisis is that the leaner the burger, the lower the price. Hamburger which is 93% meat and 7% fat is running lower in price than 80/20 chuck, as is the 90/10. To me, that makes no sense. You are actually getting slightly more meat in the leaner cuts but pay less. Huh? I do know that it is a bit more difficult to cook the leaner cuts as they tend to scorch and burn easier, requiring a more subtle hand in cooking but still, more meat for less money? I guess it is because most people do not purchase the leaner cuts? Maybe?

Farmers and ranchers are literally killing their stock because they cannot get them to be butchered and they can't afford to keep feeding them, which means the stores can't get the meat, which means we can't buy what they don't have. And when they DO have something, they are raising the price to an astronomic level simply because they can.

Sing it with me...

"It's the circle of li-i-i-f-f-f-e!"

A vicious circle in which we the consumer lose out at every turn. We either pay more than ever or we do without, and even then we lose out if they don't have it!

We cannot win.

This is the tip of the iceberg I have been trying to prepare for...

Beginning in March, I have been purchasing a few extra items each week, things I knew we would need. Extra paper towels, toilet paper (as it began to disappear: I'm not hoarding, just an extra package every week or so), hamburger, boneless skinless chicken breasts, canned goods and such. As I go to the store the next time I buy replacements for what I have used the past week, if possible, in order to remain fully stocked at home. I do not have six months worth of supplies, but I do try to keep us stocked for a few weeks to a month or so into the future, just in case.

But with prices rising, and supplies diminishing I am beginning to worry about our future. Will America open up sufficiently to allow these suppliers to begin supplying us once more? Or will our population continue to fall ill and this keep us sequestered at home?

How much can we endure as this crisis continues? How many facets of our lives are going to be affected?

I ended up going to Dollar General, which has become the new Wal-Mart in small towns. They carry some food items, bare necessities mostly, but believe it or not, I found ground beef. It was frozen, packaged in 1# packages ready for sale. I grabbed a couple as backups for what we have used this week, my plan to keep them in the freezer for the future. As I put them in my cart, I did notice something unusual on the exterior of the packaging.

A security tag. Yes, the frozen hamburger selling for $4 per pound has a security tag attached to the package to prevent shoplifting.

It's a sign of the times, baby. Someone has been stealing hamburger.

"Where's the beef? Hey, You! Stop stealing the beef!!"
"Where's the beef? Hey, You! Stop stealing the beef!!" | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Mr Archer


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