Chicken lovers will have to fend for themselves during the Great Poultry Crisis of 2021.
This week, America’s largest fast-food companies posted profits, and executives from KFC to Wingstop stressed a desperate situation — there simply isn’t enough chicken.
A slowdown in meat production triggered by pandemic safety measures, combined with an increase in demand for newly launched fried chicken sandwiches, executives said this week.
“Demand for the new sandwich has been so high that, combined with the general tightening of domestic chicken supply, our primary challenge has been meeting that demand,” Yum Brands CEO David Gibbs said Wednesday during an investor conference call. Yum Brands’ KFC recently introduced a new fried chicken sandwich.
Wingstop, located in Dallas, Texas, also noted a shortage this week, blaming it on suppliers struggling to hire new employees to meet demand.
Businesses in other sectors have also expressed trouble hiring new employees, with some business owners attributing the difficulty to increased unemployment benefits, which make it more appealing to stay on government assistance.
“Suppliers, like many others in our industry, are struggling to recruit workers to process poultry, putting an unexpected strain on the number of birds that can be processed and adversely affecting supply of all parts of the chicken in the United States, not just wings,” Wingstop CEO Charles Morrison said Thursday.
“Until we see a significant improvement in the supply of labor for poultry farmers, a labor shortage that we believe is primarily a result of the amount of government stimulus,” he said.
Bojangles, renowned for its chicken and biscuits, is also not immune.
The Charlotte, North Carolina-based chain said in a tweet to a dissatisfied customer this week that “we’re experiencing a system-wide shortage 🙁 But they’ll be back soon!” The organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Post.
According to reports, several Buffalo Wild Wings locations are also temporarily out of chicken wings.
The National Chicken Council’s Tom Super said the situation is not yet a shortage, but added that the winter storm that pounded Texas earlier this year also led to supply chain constraints.
“However, wing demand in general has proven to be ‘pandemic evidence’ over the last 14 or so months,” Super said via email. “When you think about it, restaurants like wing joints and pizza restaurants were designed on takeout and delivery, which meant they didn’t have to drastically alter their business model during the pandemic. Wings fly well and withstand distribution conditions.”
He added that supply constraints and any resulting price rises would have little effect on chicken demand, stating that as long as “people are sitting around watching TV and maybe drinking a beer,” wings will remain competitive.
“As chicken production returns to a more natural rate of output in the coming months, and as the supply/demand balance improves, prices should ease,” he said.
Chicken has long been a common meat in the United States, but demand has increased in recent years as a result of numerous fast-food chains introducing their own fried chicken sandwiches.
Popeyes, which is owned by Restaurant Brands International, started the chicken wars in 2019 with a $3.99 sandwich that sold out in several locations. This caused other chains, including burger joints such as McDonald’s, to enter what has been dubbed the “chicken wars.”
This increase in demand coincides with increased criticism of food safety practices at meat and poultry plants during the pandemic.
Numerous plants, especially in the Midwest, became COVID-19 hotspots, and lawsuits allege that the industry exacerbated outbreaks. To prevent extreme shortages, the Trump administration ordered plants to remain open amid safety concerns.
According to WSOC-TV in North Carolina, demand will likely continue to increase as more restaurants reopen entirely.
“What we need is a four-winged chicken,” the official told a local television station.