Multiple industries are struggling to maintain operations during Ohio’s coronavirus restrictions. However, several Fulton County meat processors and retailers have found themselves barely scratched by the widespread upheaval.
Designated essential services by Governor Mike Dewine, they were exempt from the state’s wholesale business closings in order to provide meat products to their communities. While other businesses have been stalled, their demand has increased, as people attempt to avoid predicted meat shortages.
Jon Lugbill, owner of Brookview Farm Meats in Archbold, has seen a significant increase in sales. “The demand has just gone through the roof,” he said.
The reason, Lugbill said, is nationwide media reports of a supposed upcoming meat shortage.
“There’s meat out there, but…we’re way past those percentages of how much is being bought by individuals,” he said.
Lugbill also attributes the demand for meat on Ohio’s stay-at-home order. “With people being under lockdown they’re having to prepare more meals at home,” he said.
Items flying off Brookview Farm shelves include hamburger, chicken, and canned meat. “Some days, as fast as we put it on the shelves it goes right back off,” Lugbill said. “It’s going to level off a little bit once the restaurants open. But we’ve been blessed. We’ve had more than enough work to keep us going through this whole crisis.”
The business purchases meat from both local farmers and large processing plants. Local animals are slaughtered at Myers Slaughter House in Archbold. In addition to product for its retail store, Brookview Farm processes meat directly for local farmers and sells to area restaurants, although those sales have drastically fallen during the closings.
“We sense a longing to return back to normal but I sense it’s going to be a gradual process,” he said of restaurants. “I think it’s going to start slowly because people are going to be cautious. Our new normal is different.”
Still, operations for Brookview Farm are so brisk that the company has time booked at the slaughterhouse until March of 2021. The retail side – where a limit of five customers in the store at one time has been adhered to strictly – is booming as well.
“Overall, people have been very gracious to the process,” Lugbill said.
Pettisville Meats has also experienced an increase in business. The company has remained open throughout the current health crisis and found new customers when local big box stores suffered meat shortages.
“(Business is) not much of a concern right now. We’ve never really had issues,” owner Claire McIntosh said.
She also uses Myers Slaughter House in Archbold, and her business processes the meat. Some of the meat originates with local farmers, but McIntosh also buys from state meat packers. She said prices have increased due to supply and demand.
The business increase during the pandemic has prevented the layoff of any of her employees locally or at her retail store in Butler, Ind.
McIntosh said Pettisville Meats retail store employees wear masks and gloves, and are given strict instructions to continually sanitize surfaces. Social distancing restrictions require the store to allow only three customers inside at one time.
St. Mary’s Meats in Swanton cuts out the middle man in their business by operating its own slaughterhouse, meat processing plant, and retail store. Owner Rusty Field said the 74-year-old company purchases the majority of its animals within a 20-mile radius of operations.
“There are plenty of animals to go around. We’re fortunate that we’re able to buy local. We have that advantage,” he said.
St. Mary’s business has at least doubled since the onset of the pandemic, so much that it was necessary to halt special orders two weeks ago. Fortunately, the company’s retail prices haven’t increased from shortages because “we’re in a unique situation where the farmers are still selling beef,” Field said.
He said people are needlessly panicking over the presumed meat shortage, which has led to full bookings at the company’s slaughterhouse until Jan. 19 of next year. Last week alone, the business slaughtered six head of cattle and 26 hogs, a large volume for what St. Mary’s typically retails.
The panic is causing customer-driven shortages of meat at local grocers, he said, adding that while meat is plentiful people don’t understand there is a two-week turnaround between slaughter and selling.
”You’re seeing a lot of stores right now where you can only get two packages of meat,” Field said. “We’re experiencing a lot more retail volume than ever. We want everybody to be able to get enough to eat.”
One of the biggest rushes is on hamburger because it’s a staple item on family tables, he said. Due to possible hoarding, St. Mary’s is limiting 10 pounds for each customer. The company receives calls for larger quantities from area restaurants whose supply from larger meat packers has decreased.
During the pandemic employees in St. Mary’s retail store have been required to wear masks and frequently wash their hands. Only three customers are permitted in the store at one time.
The business hopes its increase in sales has given local people a better understanding what is available at a local level, Field said.
“People are starting to look more local at where their meat is coming from, and how it’s handled,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.