LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Fearing meat could be the new toilet paper when it comes to hoarding, many grocery stores have started limiting how much shoppers can buy.
"We don't have to hoard," Phil Lempert, a supermarket guru, said. "It's true that we're down to about 60% capacity in our meat processing facilities, again across all of those types of animal proteins, but it will come back, it will come back soon."
Albertsons Companies has limited meat items to two per customer at its Pavilions, Vons, Safeways and Albertsons stores. The company said it was not experiencing a shortage, but wanted to make sure all customers are able to get what they need.
Kroger also announced that it was limiting the sale of ground beef and pork at its Ralphs and Food 4 Less stores.
"I think limiting the sales of meat, poultry, pork, lamb is a great idea," Lampert said.
On Wednesday night, Lisa Shetler was shopping for groceries for her friends, concerned that they might not have enough food in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I've been telling all my friends, 'Stock up on canned meats,'" she said.
Her local Pavilions in South Pasadena has a fully stocked meat aisle, but started limiting the sale of beef steaks, roasts and ground beef — two per person, per visit. On Thursday, the limit was extended to chicken and pork. As of Thursday, the limit was only in place in Albertsons Companies stores in Southern California.
In response to their new limits on beef, Albertsons said in a statement:
"We are not experiencing any shortages and do not anticipate any issues with supply or product availability. We did so to prevent the possibility of panic-buying and help ensure more of our neighbors can find the products they need."
The news of the limits came one day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to prevent meat shortages by keeping meat processing plants open amid coronavirus outbreaks and protecting those owners from lawsuits if their employees contract the virus.
Tyson Foods, which closed several of its facilities after a number of employees fell ill, has now implemented new safety precautions, and Board Chairman John Tyson warned in a letter this week that "millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle — will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities."
Some experts said meat shortages could be just weeks away, not due to a lack of product, but due to a lack of product getting to market.
And Lempert said COVID-19 was a wake-up call to the food industry and will change it forever.
"We're going to see more robotic factories," he said. "The [venture capital] money from Silicon Valley is going to be put in automating these factories so they don't have to have 5,000 workers, that they have robots doing a lot of this work to avoid these kinds of problems."
But, he said, the consumer shopping experience should return to normal soon.
"It will take us, to be honest with you, another six months to get everything back to normal," he said. "But these food companies, even the toilet paper companies, are really working very diligently to, number one, protect their workers and, number two, get supplies on those supermarket shelves.
Lempert said the pandemic has also changed how many stores stock their meat shelves, no longer putting it all out in the morning, but instead adding to the stock throughout the day so more customers have a chance to purchase what they need.
for more features.