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Making the best of it: Knauer’s Meat Market experiencing ups and downs in pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of normal life, and the meat industry is not immune. The temporary closure of some meat processing plants has put a strain on the supply. Last week, Hy-Vee began limiting the amount of meat customers could purchase from the meat department to four packages. In late April, the shortage prompted an executive order from President Donald Trump to keep meat processing facilities open.

Local butcher Mark Knauer, owner of Knauer’s Meat Market in Austin, said that the price for raw materials for ground beef has gone up.

“The pricing has a big effect,” he said. “Some of the trim has come in short supply. Last week, the wholesalers were short on some of the items we regularly use. The market is supply and demand, and of course there has been an increase in the demand. There’s the whole thing going on with toilet paper, and some people are of the same mindset – they’re going to try to stock the freezer.”

Like many meat retailers, Knauer relies on others to slaughter and process the animal. Everything is then inspected by the USDA before it arrives at his market.

“There’s a lot that goes on between the farmer and the retailer,” Knauer said. “What I understand is that there are  issues in the processing of the animal because of the virus and that’s created problems. It’s bigger than me.”

“(Suppliers) have indicated that there might be a shortage (of materials); they might order them and they might not show up,” he added.

But while the availability of supplies has been an issue, the pandemic has also had some positive impact on Knauer’s business.

“We’ve had a lot of new people buying our beef,” he said. “I think our ground beef has always been kind of special. We don’t put scraps or anything in it; it’s formulated with good ingredients. A lot of people who have been shopping around tried our ground beef and said, ‘This isn’t like what you get at the big box stores,’ and they come back for more. I think it’s created a lot of reasons for people to shop around.”

Even so, Knauer looks forward to the day things go back to normal.

“I would just as soon see the prices relaxed more and people just going back to being concerned with getting a good cut of meat,” he said. “People are really hyper about their shopping and it doesn’t do anything good for the situation. If they would buy what they usually buy, it might take some of the pressure off of the shortage. There are a lot of things that go on in the meat industry that I’m not even aware of, and we’ve been in it for a long time. There are some buyers that go through a lot more tonnage than what we do. When they start stocking up, it affects supply and demand.”

“We’re just trying to do the best with what we have until things calm down,” he added.