You might want to start thinking about what you’ll eat in place of the Thanksgiving staple this year, as shortages of the iconic holiday bird aren’t just on the horizon: they’re already here.
Hold up, where’d all the turkeys go? While there is an overall shortage, the bigger issue is a shortage of the most popular size—fowl under 16 pounds. (Because everyone loves turkey, but no one wants to wait a week for it to thaw, spend more time cooking it, or eat leftovers for two weeks afterward).
And there continues to be a labor shortage. “The labor problem is both COVID-19 induced and follows the trend of an aging and declining rural population where these processing plants are located,” said James Mitchell, agricultural economist with the University of Arkansas.
The result is a 1.5%, or 84M pound, decline in turkey production from 2020 according to the USDA. This, paired with decreasing cold storage inventories, has meant a 13% increase in the cost of frozen whole hens to about $1.16/lb.
On top of that, the cost of meat processing has gone up throughout the pandemic, as processors have made significant investments in their facilities to keep their doors open and employees safe.
And if you’re thinking about ham instead… unfortunately the shortages are not unique to turkey. Per Mitchell: “We have seen similar issues with boneless hams and value-added pork.”
The crispy chicken sandwich wars just got reheated.
A lil mom & pop shop entered the arena last week and has Chick-Fil-A and Popeye’s doing a double-take. You might’ve heard of ’em…
With Mickey D’s entering the game, all eyes have surprisingly shifted to the fast-food world’s suppliers – U.S. poultry producers.
Who’s hot: Tyson. Rumored to be McDonald’s main supplier squeeze, a chicken sandwich frenzy is swell news for the integrator. With 20% of their production focusing on small bird processing – the variety used for chicken sandwiches – they are primed to take advantage of chicken sandwich war 2.0.
Another winner: Pilgrim’s Pride. Chick-fil-A’s biggest supplier is bound to get a boost too.
With ⅓ of their production geared towards small birds and another facility converting to meet more demand, they see dollar signs when #ChickenWars lights up Twitter feeds.
The McDonald’s effect: Regardless of supplier relationships, the Golden Arches is notorious for influencing commodity prices with its 30% market share of the fast-food category. Analysts note chicken breast prices jumped 45% from January to February.
What’s ahead: Between heated fast-food ad campaigns and returning foodservice traffic, expect this battle to benefit the poultry industry for the remainder of 2021.
Migratory bird patterns have accelerated the bird flu spread across Europe and Asia, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
New strains in wild birds upped the deadliness in recent weeks. Here’s a quick roundup of where things stand:
Europe: Battling the spread since November, Germany ordered another 37K chickens to be culled while France’s total slaughtered bird numbers will reach 600K by month’s end.
Middle East: The virus ventured south to Iraq, wiping out 92% of a 69K-bird flock.
South Asia: The world’s #6 poultry producer, India, is in the cross-hairs. A $450 million (USD) economic hit is estimated, and chicken prices fell almost a third as consumers become leery of the protein.
East Asia: Possibly facing the worst conditions, Japan and South Korea have collectively culled 20 million chickens since last fall. Precautions for domestic producers are on overdrive to stop the spread.
In the world of eggs, females are at the top of the pecking order. You know, since males can’t lay eggs and all. And an innovative idea from Soos Technology could be a game changer for this global poultry predicament.
The big idea: Soos is using sound.
The backstory: Soos CEO Yael Alter and Nashat Haj Mohamad began using sound vibration in incubators and when their first test yielded a higher number of females, they knew they were on to something.
$weet tune: By taking the male egg embryos and converting them to female, the technology could eliminate the need to cull male chicks – helping the industry be more humane, while also cracking down on lost revenue.
“It is well known that sound affects cells, as this technology is also used in medicine and even in cancer treatment,” noted Alter
in a Poultry World interview. “This is precisely what we are doing: we are affecting the cells and thereby defining the sex of the embryos.”
What’s next: In November, Soos won the $1 million grand prize from a New York State food and agriculture competition. And while the coronavirus has slowed their progress, Soos hopes to run more pilots in Europe and the U.S. soon.