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Beef sales at stores, restaurants steady

When the discovery of a Holstein infected with mad cow disease was announced just before the Christmas holiday, people throughout the country reacted. There were questions, rumors and different theories circulating locally, as people tried to get their hands on as much information about the disease as they could.

Locally, the questions and concerns added up to one thing for local businesses - a slight change in purchasing trends.

Dean Stokes, owner of Sunnyside's Burger Ranch, said the first few days after the announcement by the United States Department of Agriculture he noticed sales of hamburgers and other beef products at the restaurant dropped off. However, recently those sales have bounced back. Stokes added that although hamburger sales decreased for a few days, people were still coming into the restaurant and opting for items containing chicken or fish.

Stokes said the local Burger Ranch either raises its own beef or purchases from Ray's Meat, which he said doesn't use Holstein meat. He isn't sure if there was a true spike in the sale of chicken, fish and other non-beef items or if employees were just taking more notice.

Alex de la Cruz, owner of the local A&W/KFC, said he had a few customers come in with questions after the announcement was first made. He said people wanted to know if the restaurant's beef came from any of the distributors named during the first few days after the discovery was announced. He assured them that it doesn't.

Other than a few questions, de la Cruz said it has been business as usual at the local restaurant, noting that sales have been about the same as they were last year.

At Mama J'z in Mabton an effect from the announcement has yet to be felt. According to the owner of the local restaurant, who refused to be named, the establishment has been closed for the last two or three weeks over the holiday season and will be closed for another week.

The local McDonald's restaurant could not comment on the recent announcement, however in a press release dated Dec. 19, McDonald's USA noted that the case of the infected Holstein found in Mabton has "no connection to McDonald's or its suppliers."

The release also states that the incident has had no effect on business with guest counts being on track, if not higher, than last year and the sale of beef products at their restaurants staying steady.

The local Burger King restaurant also chose not to comment on the announcement of the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States. a But according to a press release dated Dec. 23, the Burger King corporation confirmed that the packers named in the first few days of the investigation do not supply meat to the Burger King system.

Locally, Rob Martin, owner of The Valley's Market in Sunnyside, said after the announcement was made the store saw a reduction in the sale of beef, in particular hamburger.

"We saw a significant decline in that," Martin said of hamburger sales.

Martin said he also noticed an increase in the amount of chicken and pork products people have been purchasing. He said people are still eating meat, they are just making a different choice.

However, he noted that in the last few days the sale of beef products seems be coming back. Martin said he thinks that as people have learned more and more about the issue, they are beginning to understand it better and therefore are going back to beef.

"I think the trend is going to continue," he said of beef sales slowly increasing.

Cherie Myers, director of government and public affairs for Safeway, said stores were hit with a lot of questions from customers after the announcement was made.

As for beef sales, she said it is something the company does not discuss.

"It will come down to what people think, what people want and it will go from there," Myers said, noting that people will make their own decisions when it comes to what to eat.

. Elena Olmstead can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail her at eolmstead@eaglenewspapers.com

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