Remember that 1984 Wendy’s commercial with the elderly lady yelling, “Where’s the beef?” as she looked at another fast-food chain’s hamburger? The coronavirus pandemic is causing meat shortages due to processing plant closures and Clara’s question may be coming back into our everyday conversations.
Clara Peller, a character actress, became famous for that commercial at the age of 81. Some of Wendy’s customers are likely repeating Clara’s line and wondering why they can’t buy a burger as they see signs noting only chicken choices are available. This was predicted as the coronavirus spreads across the country. Meat processing plants are dealing with sick workers and trying to keep operations running so as to limit shortages in the food supply chain. I’ve written several posts about the problem as it has increased. Those posts weren’t meant to fearmonger but to warn of what may be coming down the road. Now some areas are experiencing meat shortages.
Wendy’s uses fresh beef for its burgers and the chain is struggling to keep up with rising beef prices and shortages in the supply of beef.
According to the report, Wendy’s has “struggled to maintain enough supply this past week” and to keep up with the demand for its burgers. Wendy’s issued a statement saying that it is closely monitoring the situation.
“As you’ve likely read, there have been challenges among protein suppliers across North America,” Wendy’s spokesperson Heidi Schauer told the outlet: “We are working closely with our supplier partners and restaurant teams to minimize the impact to our customers and continue to monitor this closely.”
Some Wendy’s are only able to serve chicken while others are limiting burger sales to only the smaller ones. A customer in Warren, Michigan tweeted a picture of a sign posted at one of the restaurants.
WARREN DRIVE THRU: “I went there for lunch to grab the kids some frosties & everything. They were just like we don’t have any beef today.” @Wendys customer responds to #beef shortage at fast food location at 10 mile & Ryan. @wxyzdetroit #coronavirus #10PM #11PM pic.twitter.com/DCABuSGD8j
— Simon Shaykhet WXYZ (@simonshaykhet) May 5, 2020
Other fast-food chains aren’t experiencing shortages yet and are hoping to stay ahead of the situation. There is optimism that prices may be coming back down soon and that this is the peak time of any shortages that may arise from plant closures.
Both McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands International, which owns Burger King, told Restaurant Business that they don’t expect any shortages, but RBI said it’s obviously on the company’s mind.
“It’s something we’re very acutely aware of,” said CEO of RBI Jose Cil on the company’s first-quarter earnings call. “We’re monitoring on an hour and daily basis. Obviously, we’re working closely with suppliers to make sure we have our contingency plan.”
President Donald Trump has encouraged meat processing plants to re-open via an executive order last week and as plants begin to operate again (and take measures to protect employees), prices are expected to improve in the next few weeks executive vice president of analytics for Arrowstream David Maloni told Restaurant Business.
“The worst of it might be right now,” he said.
There is no shortage of fast-food establishments, no one is in danger of not being able to buy a hamburger. What some of Wendy’s restaurants are experiencing, though, is the result of what is happening at the other end of the food chain supply, as was predicted. Some grocery stores announced Monday that they are limiting the amount of meat that customers are allowed to purchase in one trip, too, to head off panic shopping.
Grocery chains Costco, Kroger and others announced temporary limits on meat items, and meat producer Tyson Foods warned Monday that more meat processing plants would be closing due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Costco said on the company’s website that fresh beef, pork and poultry was being classified as “high-demand merchandise” and limited meat purchases to “a total of 3 items per member.”
Kroger supermarkets stores may have limited inventory “due to high demand,” the company warned on the meat section of its website. Customers were limited to two items of chicken breasts and some pork products.
Limits in purchases of fresh meat were announced by HEB in Texas on Friday. And Tyson Foods said on an investor call Monday that slowdowns and temporary closures of processing plants may continue.
Texas-based H.E.B. grocery chain announced Friday that stores would limit packages of fresh meat to five per customer.
“To help protect the supply chain in Texas, we’ve implemented temporary purchase limits on certain items,” the company said on its website.
So, meat shortages are showing up now but the problem looks to be a temporary one. That’s good news. As long as shoppers don’t overreact and panic buy what is available in grocery stores, it should be a manageable shortage. We don’t need what happened to toilet paper supplies to happen to meat supplies. With more people cooking at home during the sheltering in place phase of the coronavirus pandemic, demand has been stronger. Once processing plants began to close, it was just a matter of time before consumers began to feel the effect.