Three fundamentals of meat inventory management

Do you know what's in your freezer right now? Not just, "meat. duh." Everyone knows that. I mean can you tell me exactly what's in your freezer right now?

Can you picture the freezer in your mind, see the arrangement of all of your product and run a quick tally of the volume?

Most importantly, do you know how much it's worth right now? How much it was worth 2 days ago, or will be worth tomorrow?

Even if the answer to that is "yes," read on because I can guarantee there are a few things that we can all do better when it comes to inventory and inventory management. And if the answer is "no," then this post is for you. 

The basics of meat inventory

Inventory is essentially the product that you have on hand at any moment. If you are purchasing product from farmers and then selling it wholesale or retail, this is the product in your freezer waiting to go out the door. It has not yet been sold to your customer, so the inventory you have on hand is based on how much you think you need to buy to satisfy demand. How much you can buy depends on how much capital (money) you want tied up in your storage facility. 

How much inventory do I need?

How much you need depends on how readily you want to be able to fill orders. There are some out there who believe that you should have enough inventory so that a customer can call and order anything they want, in any amount and you'll have it. Others believe you need "just enough." Just enough will be determined by historical volume you do in the past, taking into account future trends.

1. Understand Your Yields

To replenish your inventory, no matter the philosophy you choose (well stocked, or playing it tight) you'll need to periodically order, or create more inventory.  Some shops simply order sub-primals and fabricate the various cuts that those pieces yield.  Others are more intricate and require managing several different process steps to create more inventory, for instance processing whole animals.  

No matter how simplistic or complex the process is to create inventory, yield is a driving factor in how you will create, and value, that inventory of finished product.  This may sound obvious, but the point here is not that you need to factor in yield when replenishing inventory - the point is that most shops do not do a good enough job of really understanding the value that is either gained, or lost due to the yield of the raw material.  How do you value your bi-products? How do you track your yield? How are you valuing labor? To what extent does your finished product price factor in these finer points of yields?  

For example: you should be tracking yield periodically in order to learn of any variations from cutter to cutter, or differences in grades. Yes, there is a percentage that a primal will yield of each cut produced from that primal, but knowing the details of time spent cutting (labor), finished products yielded (including bi-products), and how you're merchandizing those bi-products can help you either make a profit on each sale, or cost you money you may not even know you're losing.  

2. Understand the Cost of Sitting on Product

As we've found out above, sometimes there is product that doesn't move as quickly as other cuts, for one reason or another. There may be a tendency to let it build up in your freezer before marketing it altogether. This is good practice, as long as you are not waiting too long. What's too long? The moment when that product stops being a future sale and starts being a present liability. 

Remember, every product in your cooler is preventing another product from taking its place. If you are saving up soup bones, for example, because bone broth is so hot right now, you may be setting aside freezer space for poor profitability. First of all, those bones came from an animal that you once paid full price for, and secondly, it's preventing other more profitable items from using its space. Don't let a cheap product become inherently more valuable to you. 

3. Practice Proper Product Rotation

This entire section should go without saying. If you're not properly rotating your product (First In, First Out) and keeping accurate records, then who cares if you follow step 1 or 2 above? Every item in your freezer should be documented in an easy to find place (a clipboard hooked to the wall outside the freezer) and be updated every time someone brings a new batch in. 

Not only does proper recording keep you informed as to your inventory levels, but it prevents you from making mistakes. Imagine finding a tray of meat that belongs to a customer, but it was hiding behind something else and they came to pick their meat up weeks ago? You either are a thief if you keep it, or a dumdum if you call them and tell them it was hiding all this time. Meanwhile, you could have been actually storing new meat and making money off of that occupied tray.


If you don't know what's in your freezer or how much it's worth, start now. It's not too late to improve your record-keeping, inventory management and therefore, your profit.

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