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Chicken meat scarce in supermarkets, fast-food outlets due to worker shortage at meat processors

Shoppers are warned their favourite cuts of chicken are unlikely to be available in the coming weeks due to COVID-related worker shortages at meat processing plants.

Shoppers are being warned their favourite cuts of chicken are unlikely to be available in the coming weeks as another industry falls victim to COVID-related worker shortages.

Key points:
  • COVID isolation requirements for positive cases and close contacts lead to chicken supply shortages
  • KFC and Ingham's apologise to consumers for the lack of chicken meat
  • Chicken is Australia's most popular protein, with more than 660 million birds processed for domestic consumption each year

Take-away giant KFC has issued a statement to customers apologising that some chicken products will be unavailable, citing "supply chain and workforce" problems.

"Rest assured we're doing all we can to get back to fryin' everyone's faves as soon as possible," the statement said.

"This isn't the way we wanted to start the year, please be kind to each other, and our staff as they do their best to provide the chicken we all love."

a sign saying 'Sorry if your faves aren't available'a sign saying 'Sorry if your faves aren't available'
KFC Australia has issued a statement, apologising to customers about a chicken meat shortage. (Supplied: KFC)
Expect empty shelves

The nation's chicken supply continues to deteriorate daily, according to the Australian Chicken Meat Federation (ACMF), with businesses in the supply chain experiencing increasing staff shortages and the number of birds unable to be processed growing.

"There are plenty of chickens out on farms, but just not enough people to pick them up, process them and distribute chicken products to stores," executive director Vivien Kite said.

As a result, Dr Kite said the range and type of chicken meat products usually available in store and through food outlets would be in short supply.

Roast chicken on a plate.Roast chicken on a plate.
Consumers are being encouraged to buy full birds at the supermarket as supply of some cuts become scarce. (Flickr: TheCulinaryGeek)

The supply of whole chickens is likely to remain strong, but the most labour-intensive cuts to produce, such as cut-up, de-boned and skinless items, will be affected.

"We apologise to all our customers who have been unable to buy the products they want, and we ask for patience and understanding," Dr Kite said.

"It is a difficult time for everyone – farmers, chicken companies and all businesses in the chicken supply chain, as well as our valued customers."

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woolies bare shelveswoolies bare shelves

In 2020 and 2021 empty supermarket shelves were due to spikes in demand. Now it's a different issue, but the solutions are broadly the same. 

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Half of workforce isolating

Most major processors are operating with a reduction of up to 50 per cent of their required staff.

One of Australia's largest chicken meat processors, Ingham's, started noticing supply chain issues affecting sales in December.

Chief executive Andrew Reeves said many employees had been forced to isolate due to contracting the Omicron COVID variant in the community or being a close contact.

"The operation and trading difficulties have resulted in significant inefficiency, additional costs and temporary suspension of a number of Ingham's products," he said.

Empty meat shelves in a supermarketEmpty meat shelves in a supermarket
It is expected it will take several weeks for the supply chain to be working to capacity.(Supplied: Chris Picton)

"We are working closely with our customers and we are focused on supplying as much product as possible while the current disruption continues."

On Monday, the Commonwealth announced that workers who were close contacts of a COVID-positive case, but were asymptomatic and returning negative RATs, would be able to return to work.

Mr Reeves welcomed the move, which is yet to be implemented by all states and will not include public-facing retail staff.

"Changes to isolation rules for close contacts in the food sector should assist to alleviate some of our current staff shortages," he said.

"As operating conditions begin to stabilise, we expect our production capacity to recover relatively quickly to meet customer and consumer demands."

Rapid antigen test kits for detecting COVID-19Rapid antigen test kits for detecting COVID-19
Rapid antigen tests have become very hard to find in shops.(ABC News: Tara Cassidy)

Dr Kite also endorsed the move to allow asymptomatic close contacts who were returning negative RAT results to return to work.

"To support this, the ACMF also urges governments to provide priority access to rapid antigen tests for businesses in the food supply chain, so that they can continue to test returning staff to ensure that they are not positive before re-entering the workplace,” she said.

"We need to get back to doing what we do best — delivering a stable supply of Australia’s favourite meat."

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