Prices for beef and seafood skyrocket

As they reopen, restaurants are getting slammed by the high cost of meat and seafood. Is relief in sight?
meat and fish
Photograph: Shutterstock

Reopening a restaurant shut down by a global pandemic is hard enough. As operators went about rehiring employees, investing in safety and sanitation protocols, reconfiguring the space and restocking inventory, they were slammed by the high food costs—especially meat and seafood.

With restaurants and other operations closed during the pandemic, protein products were diverted from the foodservice supply chain to the grocery sector. Additionally, the spread of coronavirus in both meat processing plants and aquaculture facilities led to shutdowns and decreased production. Shortages caused prices to climb, along with kinks in the distribution sector of the supply chain.

According to data from Buyers Edge, a restaurant GPO (group purchasing organization), prices per case of all proteins increased between February and May, compared to 2019 figures:*

All standard beef cuts up 87%

Fresh ground beef patties up 81%

Frozen beef patties up 28%

All seafood products up 50%

Frozen fish fillets up 22%

Fresh fish fillets up 123%

Frozen shrimp (21-25 count) up 22%

Chicken breasts up 23%

All standard pork cuts (except bacon) up 70%

protein supply and prices

Technomic’s June 5 COVID-19 monitor reported that operators are still seeing shortages in animal protein supplies, particularly with pork and seafood. Beef and chicken, on the other hand are now in better supply, according to the operator survey.

The main reason is that the seafood supply is foodservice-dependent, says Barton Seaver, a Maine-based chef and lead educator for “During the shutdown, fishing boats did not go out due to decreased restaurant demand,” he says. Plus, the fishing season is now getting into full gear with certain species, including wild salmon, lobster, crab and cod. Aquaculture operations for oysters and other shellfish held back supply during the pandemic, and now are releasing these products into the supply chain. In addition, frozen fish contracted by restaurants was sitting in warehouses or going into retail. Now product is getting out into restaurant kitchens.

In June, most meat plants started getting back to speed and grocery stores are not experiencing the severe shortages of previous months. And with restaurants reopening, foodservice demand is again strong, but it takes some time for distributors to fill the pipeline.

“Looking forward from June throughout the summer, cost on proteins will continue to remain elevated, as manufacturers continue getting back to full production capacity, and there is more normalcy in the supply chain,” says John Davie, CEO of Buyers Edge.

*Rounded off to whole numbers

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