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St. Louis grocery stores limit meat purchases amid concern over shortages, panic buying

President Donald Trump ordered meat processing plants to remain open, but outbreaks at facilities across the country have slowed production

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis grocery stores are limiting certain meat purchases as the coronavirus impacts the meatpacking supply chain across the country.

Schnucks said it is limiting all fresh beef purchases at its stores to two packages per customer. Dierbergs said it is placing limits on certain items, but the rules vary by store.

Costco is limiting beef, poultry and pork to three packages per customer. Fresh Thyme is putting a two-package limit "per specific item" of meat. 

"Everybody's afraid that people are panicking and they're going to grocery stores and will buy quite a lot," said Panos Kouvelis, Director of The Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Washington University.

But Kouvelis said panic-buying isn't the only factor in these restrictions. States starting to reopen play a role, too.

"Restaurants coming back slowly as reopening is happening, there's going to be a little more stress on the supply chain, which we're going to feel it a little more on the grocers," he said.

The supply chain is already under pressure because of a big bottleneck: meat processing plants that shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks.

Last week, President Donald Trump ordered meat processing plants to remain open, calling the plants critical infrastructure. 

Despite the order, production has been slowed after plants across the country were hit by outbreaks among the workforce. Nearly 300 employees at a plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, tested positive, the Associated Press reported Friday.

"We're in a situation where we're at 60 percent, 70 percent capacity and we'll be there for a while," he said.

Kouvelis said production will likely get better over time, and as it improves, we can expect restrictions on meat purchases for a few weeks.

"I think it's a good practice. I think it's a good thing what the grocery stores are doing," he said. 

Stores putting limits on demand could help stabilize prices for customers, he said. 

"I don't think people should panic right now," he said.

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