Tales from the Front Line is a series from Independent Processor magazine. In each article or video, a small processor discusses their business in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic – what has changed, what has been successful, what the future holds.

This week, Ed Woods of Woods Smoked Meats talks about how the demand for meat is unlike anything he’s ever seen in his 40+ years in the meat industry.

As a meat industry veteran and a member of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame, Ed Woods has seen many things in the meat industry. He remembers a beef shortage in the 1970s, when people would call up his shop and ask in a panic for meat.

What do you want?

“I don’t care, just give me some meat!”

Do you want to know the price?

“I don’t care, just give me some meat!”

Even so, the business environment in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown is unlike anything he’s ever seen. The company’s store in Bowling Green, Mo., which features an array of award-winning smoked products as well as fresh meat, has had the difficult task of keeping up.

“I’ve never seen the demand for fresh meat go through the roof like this. It’s incredible. We can’t begin to keep up with the orders,” he explains.

Woods Smoked Meats has won numerous state, national and international awards for its snack sticks, sausages, bacon and other further processed items. The company also does some custom butchering. Its reputation in its region is such that it doesn’t do much advertising. The pandemic has brought more people into the store than an advertising campaign ever could.

“This has just put people in an absolute buying frenzy,” he says. “Half a beef, quarter beef, meat bundles, fresh meat, you name it. That’s not counting the custom processing that’s booked out 3 or 4 months at a time.”

Woods says that they have limited the number of shoppers in the store at any one time, and workers have installed Plexiglas shields by the cash registers and meat counters for enhanced protection. The doors and high-traffic areas like the meat counters are cleaned multiple times a day with sanitizer. The company also initiated call-ahead ordering, where shoppers can call in their orders to be delivered curbside.

In addition to making large purchases like meat bundles or half a beef, shoppers are spending more time and money at the fresh meat cases.

“Instead of buying one or two packages, they’ll buy eight or 10. We always have fresh hamburger for sale, and a lot of frozen hamburgers. We’ll grind a couple thousand pounds every week now,” Woods says.

While the shutdowns of the large meat slaughterhouses have impacted the company’s supply, particularly in beef cuts, Woods Smoked Meats hasn’t experienced many inventory shortages. “Not after we got over the initial shell shock of this thing, which was about a month ago,” he says. “Once we got geared up, we’ve been buying cows and boning them out for ground beef and ordering larger quantities.

“We’re just hoping that all these new customers that we’re getting will remember us and come back instead of going right back to Walmart and buying that stuff,” Woods adds.