Ontario Meat and Poultry, representing Ontario’s independent meat processors, says that business has increased during COVID-19.
The pandemic has driven up demand for independent meat processors across the province as consumers are purchasing more products and looking for options outside of grocery stores.
Why it matters: Independent meat processors have seen increasing demand, but virus concerns and changing mainstream retailers reduce volume of animals needed by large processors.
“It’s probably one of the busiest times most of our members have seen,” says Franco Naccarato, executive director of Meat and Poultry Ontario.
Naccarato says that any processors also involved in retail have been maxed out.
Shannon Desborough, owner of Finest Sausage & Meat in Kitchener, says there continues to be a line-up to enter their store, especially on Saturdays.
“I’ve never seen it lined up in the street, but now I’m not surprised when I see it. Even if we weren’t (only letting three people in), if we let everyone in the line up would still be out the door.”
While aspects of his business are up, some are down and others are the same, but altogether, Finest Sausage & Meat sales are up.
“We have a very diverse clientele. Some of the companies I deal with are behaving in different ways. Our markets are gone, some grocery stores are down, while others are up, and restaurants are down,” says Desborough.
He noticed the change in markets as he began to receive calls from panicked customers when the pandemic first came to Canada.
“I was trying to keep people calm. Customers would call asking if we had any food. ‘Well of course we have food’… They were at a local grocery store, a national chain and they were empty.”
The pandemic is going to change the future of meat markets, says Naccarato. It’s showing a lot of vulnerabilities in the food system.
“Our food system, when consistent, is very reliable. Throw an inconsistency in there, it isn’t. That’s where regional food and local food really kicks in. That’s why I think you see more people going back to the butcher shop because they are more reliable in terms of supply and availability.”
Although social distancing hasn’t turned consumers away from buying local, it has changed the way meat processors with retail stores do business.
Many have opted for ordering online, through email or over the phone with curb-side pick-up.
“Everyone is doing something different, and people are looking for all kinds of different solutions,” says Naccarato.
Finest Sausage & Meat has extended its hours to meet customers needs. The company is also increasing store sanitation, limiting number of individuals in the store at a time and allotting certain hours for the elderly.
“We are letting people see that we are also doing our best to keep things orderly – it keeps people calm. We are trying to cater to our customers needs,” says Desborough.
Meat council members take processing precautions
Larger meat processing plants have also taken steps to reduce the risk posed by COVID-19, officials say.
“Meat processors across the country have been working diligently and collaboratively with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and public health officials to take comprehensive measures to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19,” said Marie-France MacKinnon, vice president of public affairs with the Canadian Meat Council.
This includes spacing workers further apart on production lines, installing plexiglass dividers, staggering work breaks, and hiring additional workers to conduct more frequent cleaning of surfaces that are frequently touched, she said. As well, workers have their temperatures taken before their shifts and in warmer parts of the country, some plants have set up tents outside so workers on break can more easily social distance.
– With files from Alexis Kienlen.