People are going mad for mince: butchers can’t keep up with demand and are having to use premium rump steak in their ground meat. It seems as if all those customers who rushed in to buy pasta are now filling their freezers with minced beef so they can make endless supplies of ‘spag bolognese’ in the event of a total lockdown.
It’s not as if Australia is short of beef, the closure of restaurants and the collapse of the export markets has meant that there is an abundance of meat available domestically. The problem is the limited number of mincers and trucks which means that only so much mince can be delivered by butchers and supermarkets each day. This leads to peculiar behavior by customers: if they all increase their purchases (say by 20%) to make extra ‘spag bol’ in case they can’t go out, this leads to daily shortages. When people start missing out they react by purchasing more, which leads to panic buying.
Adelaide butcher, Trevor Hill, has witnessed the panic buying first hand.
"In the first three hours of trade this week we sold the equivalent of our regular week's amount of mince," he said.
"The typical order is for two kilos - one for tonight's dinner and one to put in the freezer.
"The centralised production supermarkets operate under means logistically they can't ramp up their supply quickly but butchers can - we just walk over to the fridge and go let's put that through the mincer now."
Another butcher in Queensland has reported that his sales have gone from 25 kilograms a week to 280 kilograms.
"We've been able to source extra supply that was headed the way of clubs and pubs," butcher Steve Madden said.
"The biggest problem is finding the time to break down carcases and make the mince."
The fact that people are buying mince is probably a reflection of the fact that their job status is uncertain and they may have reduced income. They are therefore stocking up on cheaper food that can keep them going in uncertain times.
One of the behavioral changes that’s likely to persist is the greater use of the local butcher in preference to supermarkets. The neighbourhood butcher, who was on the decline, is proving more flexible than the big supermarkets. Many of them have special relationships with regional abattoirs so they can guarantee supply when supermarkets can’t.
Terry Hill believes that demand for meat from local butchers wll run well above normal for some time.
"Even when the freezers are full, people will be eating at home more," he said.
The Cattle Council of Australia says that there are as many cattle in Australia as there are people so there is unlikely to be a shortage of meat. President Tony Hegarty said the nation's cattle producers were committed to keeping supply lines open.
"Beef producers take their responsibility to help feed the nation seriously," Mr Hegarty said.
"We have the capacity to supply high-quality and nutritious red meat to all our customers both at home and overseas.
"Australia produces around 2.3 million tonnes of beef and veal per year and 27 per cent of it is sold at home.
"We have world-class biosecurity standards and practices to make sure consumers can depend on Australian beef."
The question is whether these reassurances will be enough to quell the mince panic.