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Pandemic-Driven Demand For Local Meat Stays Strong

Dick's Country Butcher shop serves patrons in southeast South Dakota.

Consumers turned to local lockers when meat was scarce at grocery stores during the pandemic. Now the pandemic is fading, but many consumers are still buying from local butchers.   

Coronavirus outbreaks caused shutdowns at big meatpacking plants last year. The workload trickled down to smaller lockers.    

Scott Kleinschmit is the co-owner of Kleinschmit Locker in Yankton.   

“With COVID and everything, I think people kind of panicked. So, I think they tried to book them out more,” he said.  

Kleinschmit said the increase in business has been great for him. He has been able to keep up with demand. Other lockers have been struggling for space.  

The owner of Scotland Locker, James Dangel, said his freezers are filled to capacity.  

“Oh man, we’re booked out for two years and it’s people that they come, and they’ve got appointments for two years out,” he said. “They’ve got some for next year fall, the next fall, and that’s the way I suppose it’s going to be now for quite a while.”   

Dangel said many farmers and ranchers are butchering locally because consumers want locally sourced beef. Consumers also like the value they get from buying in bulk with a local butcher.    

“I think more they just wanted to know where it came from and cost-wise, I mean if you do come get like a whole half of beef, your total per pound on the meat you take home is about usually about four to five dollars a pound,” Dangel said.   

“So, I mean you’re paying a little extra for hamburger but you’re taking home ribeye, T-bones, sirloin, roasts, and you’re filling your freezer and you know where it came from.”    

A new $5 million grant program in South Dakota aims to help meat lockers expand and improve efficiency.    

Logan Powers is a co-owner of Avon Locker, which has received $43,000 from the program.   

“We’d really like to kind of expand our cut floor to just have a little more room to be able to process and just, you know, maybe add on another employee in time,” he said. “We would like to be able to ramp up our production by almost being able to double.”    

Power and his business partner, Devin Cowdin, bought the Avon Locker in May of this year to keep it from shutting down.    

Powers said the extra grant money will alleviate stresses his employees are feeling from the immense workload.