Here's the scariest news yet about the economy: The only meat product in short supply in the U.S. is Spam. Spam!
I was in college once, for quite a while in fact, so I know how broke you have to be to eat Spam. If you've got to eat Spam, you are a poor prospect for the purveyor of even hamburger. Much less beef steak.
In an earlier column we talked about my theory that the major grocers' decision to begin accepting credit cards may have had more positive effect on beef demand than all the improvement we've made in beef quality in the last 30 years.
My theory centers on the fact that folks using credit cards are more likely to buy upscale. I mean, if you can sell working folks $1,300 steroes and $800 leather seats in cars just because it's all paid on time, charging a T-bone over flaccid white chicken is easy..
I've not seen any proof I was right, but as I noted before, the rise in beef demand that started a few years ago seemed to coincide with when I noticed you could charge-card food at Walmart.
Now it seems our customers, like some of our children, have charged all they can. A friend in the furniture wholesale business tells me that his dealers claim that 60% of the people who agree to buy furniture nowadays fail to qualify for credit.
And, sure enough, beef demand is trending down. Demand for the middle meats is much weaker than demand for ground beef. And, apparently weaker than demand for Spam. Spam! You shouldn't even be able to "demand” and "Spam” in the same sentence.
I refuse to be negative about things, but if I were inclined to be, a world in which people, American people, yet, have to eat Spam would be something I could be negative about.
I'm not going to do any market predicting. But between commodity deflation, which seems to be all around us, and an increasingly frugal population—a population that may be learning, enmasse, what I learned years ago about credit card abuse—I could get a little bearish on the near term future for cow creatures.
Not long term, mind you. We've still got a hungry world to feed and there are more people every day. Assuming, and we must, that the tide of globalization will continue to lift millions of boats, a lot of them will want to eat beef.
But, for a while here, you've got to figure domestic demand may leave a nasty taste in our mouths. So, if you now and then notice a slightly greasy, fatty, taste, with just a hint of what might be possum, lingering in your palate, it might not just be the Spam.
Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at email@example.com.