Boneless Chicken to Go Scarce in the US as Pandemic Hits Meat Supply
Thu, February 2, 2023

Boneless Chicken to Go Scarce in the US as Pandemic Hits Meat Supply


Canada is another country in North America that was affected by the meatpacking shutdown / Photo by rtem via Shutterstock


Boneless chickens are expected to go scarce in the United States as coronavirus shutdowns have caused meatpacking plants to reduce their supplies of the in-demand cuts, reports Bloomberg.


Reduced slaughter capacity in meat processing plants

In the last two months, at least 18 meat-processing plants in the US have ceased their operations after some plant employees were infected with or exposed to the new coronavirus. Major meat processors, such as Tyson Foods Inc. and JBS USA, for instance, have indefinitely closed their slaughterhouses as the virus spreads among its workers who usually work next to teach other. But with reduced slaughter capacity in the plants, food retailers across North America were forced to offer to consumers the less popular drumsticks and chicken thighs.

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said their top priority, for now, is the safety of their team and the plant communities while they fulfill their role of feeding families in the country.

Canada is another country in North America that was affected by the meatpacking shutdowns. Quebec-based meat kit company Goodfood Market said it will be swapping boneless chicken in its supply for bone-in thighs, drumsticks, and legs because the poultry sector wants to speed up meat production by forgoing the process of separating flesh from bones or what is referred to as deboning.

Goodfood CEO Jonathan Ferrari explained that poultry suppliers are facing a shortage of workforce and many are now operating using only less than half of the total regular workforce. This is why the poultry industry in Canada is not prioritizing deboning chicken legs because it wants to increase the production capacity of meat processing plants.


Meat may soon start disappearing from grocery shelves in selected parts of the US. / Photo by branislavpudar via Shutterstock


Meat selection

Meat, like strip loins and sirloin, that are typically sent to restaurants before the coronavirus outbreak are now sold more by retailers to grocers in different sizes to lower the price point, explains Canada Beef’s president Michael Young. As a result, grocers have been accepting cuts of meat that may need more cutting by butchers who work in their stores just to make sure their counters have enough meat supply for the consumers.

Grocers have moreover been finding means to sell the “end-cuts” from the trunk or leg that consumers are less familiar with. For instance, grocers would encourage consumers to grill marinated round steaks from a cow’s leg on the barbeque so that it will be more tender.

Some firms are shifting away from thin-cut meats that need more time to process.



Smaller to larger packages of meat

Grocery store buyers from around the world may have also noticed that meat now comes in larger packages instead of smaller portions or individual steaks. Privately held corporation that works alongside farmers and retailers Cargill’s head of protein and salt business Brian Sikes told Bloomberg that although their plants produce the same products for food-service and retail industries, they are open to packaging or cutting the meat slightly differently than usual.

This doesn’t happen in North America alone. Grocers in Europe have also been selling cuts of meat to retail customers that are traditionally offered to restaurants even though disruptions of the food supply chain in Europe are not as severe.

British Meat Processors Association’s chief executive Nick Allen said that there’s been an increase in the sales of cuts of meat and steaks that were preferred by retail customers in the UK. He added that ground meat is usually sold to retail customers, by comparison, causing an imbalance.


US meat industry

The meat and poultry industry, which comprises firms that process and sell fresh cuts of meat and meat products, is the largest part of US agriculture. In data provided by the North American Meat Institute, Americans purchase chicken over other proteins. A total of 9 billion chickens have been processed by the meat and poultry industry in 2017, followed by 32.2 million cattle and calves, 24.17 million turkeys, 2.2 million sheep, and lambs, and 121 million hogs.

In the same year, meat companies in the US produced 42.2 billion pounds of chicken, 150.2 million pounds of lamb and mutton, 802 million pounds of veal, 5.9 billion pounds of turkey, 25.6 billion pounds of pork, and 26.3 billion pounds of beef.

Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas are the top three states that slaughter chicken and process them for meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service also published that 64.1 pounds of chicken per person were available for consumption in 2017, way higher compared to the 16.1 pounds of fish and shellfish per person. The per capita availability of chicken is also higher than beef. The Department calculated it based on raw and edible meat in boneless, trimmed weight and excluding bones, edible offals, and viscera.



Compelling meat processing facilities to stay open

As poultry, beef, and pork plants in the country have shut down because of the Covid-19 outbreak, President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order to compel the meat processing plants to stay open amid the pandemic.

An official familiar with the executive order told CNN that if the majority of the meat processing plants remain shut down, it will lessen the country’s processing capacity by as much as 80%. However, by signing the EO under the Defense Production Act, it declares that the meat processing plants are critical infrastructure in the country.

The Trump administration is also joining forces with the Department of Labor to issue the guidance on which workers are allowed to work in the meat processing plants. Workers who are considered most vulnerable to the virus should stay at home.

As the US completed its third week of reduced meat production and slaughter, commodity broker and livestock analyst Dennis Smith believes that the shortages will soon be felt at the retail meat counters.

Meat may soon start disappearing from grocery shelves in selected parts of the US. Although there are frozen pork, beef, and chicken in warehouse freezers, supplies of fresh meat will be a challenge. Americans can only hope the President’s action will help solve the possible disruption in the meat market.