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Are you struggling to find meat in grocery stores? Here's what could be causing the shortage

A shortage of labor in the processing portion of the meat supply chain has led to some stores with empty meat coolers.

WALKER, Mich. — Karl Jones, the owner of Jones Farm Market in Saranac, is tired.

"We're pushing as hard as we can," said Jones, "but we need help."

The market does it all when it comes to meat. They harvest animals, process them, age them and sell the meat at the market.

Lately, they have been busy with customers unable to find meat in larger chain supermarkets. At the same time, he's dealing with a labor shortage with processing.

Credit: 13 OYS
Workers at Jones Farm Market process meat.

"We had some meetings yesterday with the Michigan Association," said Jones, "and everything across the board is labor. We're all short of help."

Jones said 85% of the beef production in the country is handled by four large packers. The rest of that 15% is done by small, locally-owned processors like Jones Farm Market. The labor struggle is affecting them all.

"What they’re seeing in big chain stores, because you are seeing low volume of products on shelves," said Jones, "is directly related to the labor shortage."

Currently, Jones said they are looking at 12 to 15 months out for booking processing. Prior to the pandemic, they were at a six week maximum, which he says is a huge change.

"We need immediate help," said Jones. "It’s an aging workforce in this industry. A lot of my longtime guys are in their 60s, and they’ll be retiring soon. It’s kind of a dying business in a way. But it’s a business we desperately need."

Meanwhile, some locally-owned meat markets are faring better than larger grocery stores with supply. 

Credit: 13 OYS
Jones Farm Market is busy with people buying mean, often not finding it in grocery stores nearby.

"We’ve had enough supply come in," said Tim Sobie, owner of Sobie's Meats in Walker. "There’s some chinks in the armor, and the biggest thing is at the processing plants. We have a number of suppliers, which helps us. We’re not getting the big volume as some of the box stores. So, I can see that being a challenge."

Sobie's Meats has full meat cases. However, sometimes certain cuts are more difficult to come by. While there are enough chickens, pigs and cattle to meet demand, manpower is an issue. 

"For a while, it was getting ribs from pigs," said Sobie, "because they didn’t have the manpower to separate the rib from the loin."

The meat market has been busy. However, Sobie said it is a lot better now than earlier in the pandemic when people were stockpiling food and items. 

Credit: 13 OYS

Some prices may increase at the market as well, as prices have gone up across the country due to many of these supply chain issues. 

"Nobody wants to talk about the labor issue, but that’s the biggest thing to get the economy back going again," said Sobie. "We need people to get off their rump roast."

Jones also encouraged people to reach out to local and federal lawmakers to help the meat industry. 

 RELATED VIDEO:  Grand Rapids meat market owner saves customer's life with CPR

   

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