When you go to the grocery store, do you gasp when you see the price on a package of ground beef? Does it seem that the size of the package of T-Bone or Bone In Strip Steak is getting smaller? Did you really see that woman put a steak into her purse? What in the world is going on?
It all started in 2013 when there was a drought in the Midwest. The U.S. corn crop was severely diminished, and the drought baked pastures. The demand for the limited supply of corn, used for ethanol production and cattle feed, sent corn prices soaring. Ranchers culled their herds of cattle, which caused the number to be the smallest since 1951.
In 2013 and 2014, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) struck pigs. This virus is usually fatal to baby pigs, and it causes infected older pigs to lose weight. That significantly reduced the amount of pork available to the consumer.
In 2014, the number of chickens also declined.
The life cycle of these animals—chickens, pigs, and cattle—varies. Chickens can grow to market weight in four to six weeks. It takes four to six months to bring a hog to market size. It takes up to thirty months to bring beef cattle to market size. Therefore, beef was slowest to recover its market share.
If you think the size of a package of steak is smaller than it used to be, you may be right. To avoid the sticker shock of a pound of steak at $12.99 a pound, some grocery chains are packaging the meat in smaller weights. The customer thinks he is getting a bargain. What he is really getting is less meat.
What about the woman who was putting a steak into her purse? Shoplifting of meat has increased dramatically since prices have risen. On March 4, 2016, WTVC Channel 9 News out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, reported that a man was arrested for shoplifting at Whole Foods Store after he stuffed fifteen pounds of meat down his pants. The meat was worth $250. In a similar story, an A&P supermarket employee in New York was arrested when he tried to leave the store with $1,200 of raw meat stuffed into his pants. He is charged with fourth degree grand larceny.
—By Karen Centowski