Wendy’s fast food restaurants are pulling burgers (including their famous “Baconator” sandwich) off menus in about 20% of its restaurants over concerns that beef supplies are running short.
The chain, which famously cooks only fresh meat, is facing a shortfall of resources as meat producers shut down operations nationwide, amid concerns that meat processing plants are a hotbed for the coronavirus. Several meat processing and packing plants, including plants in South Dakota and Indiana, have shut down in recent days after dozens of workers tested positive for the virus, which causes the dreaded COVID-19.
So far, the shortages have hit Californa, Kentucky, and South Carolina the hardest, forcing the burger chain to scale back in those states first, according to NBC’s Today show.
Wendy’s says the menu changes will be temporary.
“Some of our menu items may be in short supply from time to time at some restaurants in this current environment,” the company said in a statement. “We expect this to be temporary, and we’re working diligently to minimize the impact to our customers and restaurants.”
Bloomberg news reports that at least 115 meat processing facilities have been affected by coronavirus outbreaks, disrupting production in at least 19 states and damaging supply chains nationwide. At least 12 plants have now closed completely because of the deadly virus, which spreads quickly in meat packing plants, where workers are located close together in conditions that are ideal for the virus’ survival.
Because major agricultural companies like Tyson Foods, Cargill, ConAgra, and Smithfield have a “stranglehold” on the American packaged meat industry, even a small hiccup or a single plant closure can mean major issues in getting beef, pork, and chicken to American consumers.
“In normal times, the U.S. concentration is touted as a hallmark of a successful industry that’s become extremely efficient at pumping out huge amounts of affordable meat — something that’s reaped rewards for the companies and investors alike,” Bloomberg says, noting that the United States has some of the cheapest meat prices in the world. “Tyson clocks in annual net income of about $2 billion and its shares have surged about 60% in the last five years, bringing its market value to about $23 billion.”
“But in the virus era,” the outlet continues, “the vastness of these companies is a crucial point of vulnerability for U.S. food supply.”
Those 12 closures have “wiped out roughly 25% of pork-processing capacity and 10% for beef — enough for analysts to say that the country was weeks away from shortfalls. Meat prices are already surging.”
The situation could get worse, experts told the Today Show, if consumers begin “panic buying” as they did with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and anti-bacterial wipes.
“What you see with this is less supplies and higher prices, and whether we’re talking beef, pork, chicken, lamb, whatever your favorite is, we are already seeing really skyrocketing prices at wholesale for meat,” Texas A&M University economics professor David Anderson told the morning news program.
The shortages have prompted a federal response. President Donald Trump has ordered meat processing plants to continue operation under the Defense Production Act, mandating that companies like Tyson return to processing beef, pork, and chicken as soon as they can guarantee safe conditions for workers. Bloomberg also reports that several U.S. Senators are requesting that the Federal Trade Commission investigate “consolidation in American meatpacking and processing” for any evidence of unfair monopolies or anti-competition practices.
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