Austin businesses in the meat industry struggle with increasing prices

It's a staple of Texas cuisine, but being in the barbecue business is getting expensive. Just in time for summer grilling season, meat prices are at some of the highest they've been in years.

"We were getting our brisket at about $3.49, $3.99 a pound," said Bonita Rabago, co-owner of Scotty’s BBQ, a food truck in East Austin. "Just Monday when we went back it was at like $4.69 and up." 

She said not only have prices increased, but at HEB, she has a limit on how much she can buy right now. 

It’s a trend that’s trickled down the supply chain, affecting everything from grocery stores to small eateries to family-owned butcher shops.

"Every single week they just seem to be going up and up and up," said James Jackson Leach, owner of Longhorn Meat Market.

Leach said the price fluctuations started when there Covid outbreaks at production plants. He said it eventually improved, but now, prices are worse than they were during the peak of the pandemic. 

Leach said it’s due to a labor shortage - a shortage he’s even experiencing at his own business.

Then, over the weekend, one of the nation’s largest meat producers was the victim of a cyberattack.

JBS plants were coming back online by Wednesday, so it’s unclear if there will be any effects on the supply chain.

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"Labor was already an issue, Covid was just kind of getting better at these plants, and then now things like that are happening," said Leach. "It just added more weight on the already exhausted infrastructure."

He said he’s having to monitor prices daily, and it becomes a major problem when people try to order from him ahead of time.

"They show up and they’re going to pick up 20 briskets for a barbecue catering event, but the price of brisket has gone up more than double," said Leach. "And they’re like, ‘I can’t pay this for brisket’ because they had a contract for a catering event for a certain dollar amount." 

He said he’s most concerned for small, family-owned restaurants. They’re forced to absorb the extra cost - and many can’t - or pass it along to the consumer. 

That also means constantly altering menus and making other changes that can add up cost-wise for a small business as well.

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"I'm spending a lot more time now just talking to restaurants when I would normally just be running my business," he said. "I'm not kidding, I’m getting a dozen calls a day, they're on the phone like, ‘Really, pork is this much?’"

Leach said he wouldn’t be surprised if more restaurants have to close their doors for good, after a year that already tested many of them.

At Scotty’s BBQ, they’re managing, but have had to raise prices and sometimes run out of certain meat before the end of the day.

"Just those little increases on the prices takes away from our profit," said Rabago. "Now we’re starting to pick up a lot more so I’m kind of worried - are we going to be able to keep up?"