The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the rise of the omicron variant are impacting the restaurant industry — and in the world of steaks, it’s apparently led to a pile-up of meat as steakhouses cancel orders.
Andrew Neva, owner and vice president of operations at the Northwest Meat Company in Chicago, has seen this impact firsthand.
In a recent interview with FOX Business Network’s Grady Trimble, Neva shared the news that he purchased about $25,000 to $30,000 worth of meat to prepare for restaurant demand — but the pandemic has presented unexpected challenges for his business.
"Prior to omicron, I purchased all this product because as we know, everyone wanted to get out. So, I bought all this product in October, had to pay for it in November," Neva explained.
"Then when omicron came … all my high-end steakhouses canceled their reservations. So as a result, now I’m sitting on all this product that I still haven’t gotten paid on."
These unsold high-end cuts are now sitting in the wholesale meat distributor’s freezer as the company awaits a change in demand.
In a phone interview with FOX Business Digital on Sunday, Neva said the current surge of COVID-19 infections has led to more consumers sheltering in place rather than going out to dine at restaurants.
As of Jan. 23, 2022, data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard shows that more than 283,890 people have been infected with the respiratory virus in a 28-day period in Cook County — which is home to Chicago, the third-largest city in the U.S.
The state of Illinois as a whole has seen 752,060 infections in the same period, according to the online tracker.
"With the omicron variant in Chicago and the sheer number of people becoming sick and then obviously the fear of gathering in large groups, especially indoors, you've had a lot of cancellations," Neva said. "The portion of the business that was affected was kind of your high-end steakhouses. You know, those are for your holiday parties, your once-a-year gatherings, your special events."
He continued, "Well, those are going to be the first to go and they were the first to go. So, therefore, any of the product I bought for that high-end market is still on my shelf."
Restaurants that haven’t canceled wholesale orders are sitting on cuts of meat as well and are likely storing it in their coolers until regular dining business eats it all, Neva added.
While Neva expects to see a modest industry rebound around Valentine’s Day, other factors that are possibly playing a role in thawed meat demand include rising prices and severe winter storms.
"It's a lot more expensive to go out. Inflation is rampant in our industry. Our food inflation is hovering around 20%. So, if you go out, it's going to cost you a lot more," Neva said.
"Plus the weather — we had a major snowstorm. If you get a massive snowstorm, then forget about it."
Neva continued, "My clients are planning [on] special venues and all that. But, what people do will remain to be seen."
He also said, "I'm going to plan for it, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be what it's going to be, and I'm just going to ride with it."