What’s Next for You as Meat Plants Work to Restore Capacity?

Until supplies are more certain, menu creativity and flexibility are essential.

Temporary closures and reduced workforces at beef, pork and poultry processing plants  have hurt production and caused supply-chain shortages. That’s the bad news. The good news is the worst may be in the past, as companies such as Smithfield Foods, Cargill, JBS, Tyson Foods and others are actively working to restore capacity and meet the needs of the foodservice industry.

Gordon Food Service category managers talk about the impact and what it means to those who plan menus for restaurants, healthcare and education.

Beef at a glance

What’s happening? There’s no shortage of cattle, only the capacity to process the normal 650,000 head per week, says Brad Huizingh, Beef Category Manager. At its low point in early May, capacity fell to about 400,000. It has since climbed to near 540,000 and could reach 600,000 by late summer or early fall, barring setbacks.

What’s next? The effect on supplies remains fluid, as production is moved to other plants. Ground beef and cuts that require more labor may be harder to come by, potentially forcing operators to consider smaller menus and build flexibility into their offerings.

Pork at a glance

What’s happening? Labor is the biggest challenge for processors, says Pork Category Manager Cassandra Clark. Pork plants are operating at about 65-70%, but Gordon Food Service is still getting 80-85% of its previous volume. The labor shortage is making boneless products and fresh pork harder to get. “Cooking pork bone-in adds flavor,” Clark reminds operators. “And we have frozen pork to ensure there are options available.”

What’s next? While the worst of the fresh pork shortfalls may be over as plants adjust, some value-added items are lagging behind—hot dogs, meatballs, ham and perhaps breakfast sausage. It could take three weeks to right itself, Clark says, urging operators to consider substituting like items.

Poultry at a glance

What’s happening? Attendance at processing plants has ranged from 30-70%, reducing supply on average to 70-80% of normal volume, says Poultry Category Manager Sarah Cooper. She warns that poultry supply may get worse before it gets better. When buying volume dropped off at the start of the pandemic, many poultry producers reduced egg sets. Since broilers take 60-80 days to be market ready, it will take time for capacity to return.

What’s next? Bone-in chicken wings are hard to find right now, so Cooper recommends menuing boneless wings because they are made of breast meat and more readily available. Certain areas are experiencing a shortage of boneless dark meat, so operators may consider leg quarters instead. “Operators who are creative and flexible will do better right now,” Cooper says. “Have a Plan B if you can’t get core items.” Frozen wings or value-added products may be necessary backups that also can help reduce prep and labor costs at the operator level.

Seafood at a glance

What’s happening? Luckily, seafood in general has not experienced the same challenges as other proteins. Seafood Category Manager Kim Schievink says inventory is in good shape and there has been little production disruption.

What’s next? Some fisheries may be slower to open from COVID-19 restrictions, but the potential impact is not clear. 

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