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April 1, 2023

Customers, businesses contend with escalating meat prices

Labor Day Weekend is fast approaching, and many are looking to stock up on foods for barbecues and other outdoor gatherings.

But this year is different, for both consumers and suppliers alike, and it has a lot to do with the current high price of meat.

Will Panis, manager at Freedom Meat Lockers in Watsonville, said that the price of meat is so high right now that many consumers are backing off from buying. A pound of skirt steak, which used to sell for about $7 per pound, is now at about $21.

“It’s the highest I’ve ever seen,” Panis said. “And I’ve been working here a long time. It’s crazy. I think that’s why we’re so slow, why [customers] are backing away. These days people are just trying to get deals. It’s a hard situation.”

Freedom Meat Lockers has remained open during the pandemic, doing what they can to provide the best possible service and product, Panis said. But the high costs, coupled with the ongoing labor shortage, has been difficult. 

“Customers aren’t coming in like they used to,” Panis said. “We get it—on their end, it’s not easy. But the meat market doesn’t make all the money. We pay for the meat, so we have to raise prices too. We’re trying, doing our best but everything is really cut back.”

Still, the business is moving forward. Owner and butcher Howard Walker recently redesigned the shop’s front deli counter, making it more accessible and easy to navigate. A grab-and-go case at the front of the store offers pre-made sandwiches, macaroni salads and pies from Gizdich Ranch

In addition, they completely redid the floors and are making room for new freezer cases.

“Howard takes his money and puts it right back into the shop,” Panis said. “He’s always done that. The shop always comes first.” 

GRAB N’ GO Freedom Meat Lockers recently redesigned its front deli counter. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Freedom Meat Lockers is known for its skirt steaks—they’re what they sell the most. But they also offer smoked ribs and tri-tip, turkey legs, sausages, pork loin and more.

Panis said they hope Labor Day Weekend will be a bit of a boon for sales, since for many, the holiday signals the “last hurrah” before most people are back at work and school.  

Many customers who are still coming in are longtime regulars. This includes Todd Anderson, who stopped by Tuesday to grab a few of his favorite marinated meat packages. Anderson said he was both celebrating his birthday and picking up some meat to bring his friend this weekend.

“I love this place,” he said. “I stop by here at least once a week; they’re the best. I have a friend in Paradise, the town burned up by the fires… She’s really depressed… So I’m going to cook her something from here. It’s the kind of thing you have to do. I absolutely love their tri-tip wine and spice marinade.”

Panis said they do not know when prices are going to be normal again—so they appreciate whatever support they can get. 

“People do come and support us, and we’re really thankful for that,” he said.

Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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