U.S. meat cases awash with Christmas hams at bargain

Chicago | Reuters –– Shoppers preparing to feast on ham for Christmas can do so without breaking their budget, thanks to record amounts of pork as the industry rebounds from a deadly pig virus, said analysts following the government’s monthly cold storage report on Tuesday.

Christmas is the top-ranked holiday for eating ham, followed by Thanksgiving and Easter, according to the National Pork Board.

November pork stocks hit a record for the month at 561.9 million lbs., eclipsing the previous November high of 558.7 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Ham inventories in national warehouses last month totaled 109 million lbs., the second highest on record for the month since 2013 at 116.1 million lbs.

“Grocery stores are offering great ham specials right now because they’ve been cheap to the processor that has been able to pass that along to retailers,” said independent market analyst Bob Brown in Edmond, Okla.

Ham is more bountiful after hog farmers, through vaccines and stepped up biosecurity measures, contained the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) that has wiped out an estimated eight million pigs since March 2013.

Less costly hams last summer offered processors the opportunity to sell them at attractive prices to grocers, who then funnelled the products into freezers for use during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays, said John Ginzel, an analyst with Chicago-based Linn Group.

His concern is that already plentiful ham in storage could lag well beyond the winter holidays into a time when the production of fresh ham supplies is expected to increase.

“With Easter being early, and we drag over quite a few unsold hams from the winter holidays, that could be a real problem,” said Ginzel.

Theopolis Waters reports on livestock markets for Reuters from Chicago.

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