USDA’s most recent Cold Storage report (released Feb. 22) revealed current beef inventories to be 484 million lbs. – nearly identical to the year-ago mark of 485 million lbs. Additionally, January’s cold storage inventory equates to a 12-month moving average of nearly 467 million lbs. From a market perspective, the focus will be upon inventory levels over the next several months – it’s an indirect indicator of beef demand.  

Recall that last spring’s beef inventories surged, largely as a result of the LFTB debacle. However, the business was very successful in working through and absorbing that additional inventory over time. So while inventories have grown in recent months (likely the result of strategic positioning), there’s good reason to believe those stocks will be whittled away in the months to come as peak demand season begins to kick in. 

boxed beef numbers

Also interesting in this discussion is the 12-month moving average. It generally hovers around 450 million lbs. – the equivalent of about one week’s worth of production. Where this all gets critical – given current events – is discussion around the March 1 sequester. If Food Safety Inspection Service inspectors are put on furlough, it means the complex has approximately one week’s worth of beef and beef products to meet typical business requirements.  

A Closer Look: Will FSIS Furlough Hold The Food System Hostage?

There’s no orderly means by which to ration available supply. As such, what do you see happening IF there’s extended commerce disruption? How would consumers respond? What would that ultimately mean for the business? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.