STAFF shortages and COVID-related absenteeism has put pressure on poultry product supply chains across the Hunter creating scarcities which have forced restaurants and cafes to change their menus as wholesalers struggle to meet demand.
Supermarket chains have reported that consumers are turning to frozen chickens due to low stocks of fresh cuts and other labour-intensive products, while food chains such as KFC have asked customers to be patient if their "favourites" are unavailable.
Keith Moss, who owns Hunter Valley Chicken and Game, said the issue had been ongoing since before Christmas. "The place I get my chicken from in Melbourne usually runs 24 to 26 workers over two shifts to process, at the moment they've got four," Mr Moss said.
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"So they can only process a certain amount. Whole birds I am still getting, it's mainly affecting cuts and order sizes. But I can't supply my wholesale customers. They may ask for 30-40 kilograms of meat from me and I can't get them that at the moment."
Mr Moss said he had been unable to supply to restaurants, such as Merewether Surfhouse, and that there may be ongoing issues for another couple of weeks. "I do know there are other processors, like Steggles out at Beresfield, which supply a lot of the pubs up here, haven't got the process workers to process either."
Further down the supply chain, there had been difficulties getting enough drivers to bring the products from farms, as well as a shortage of abattoir workers, he said. "There's a big ripple effect, and at the moment we've just got to try and manage it as best we can. "I know it's the same on the red meat side of things."
Other -based food distributors have also been affected, as staff shortages bite deep. Executive director of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, Dr Vivien Kite, said the industry was facing "significant pressure" from critical staff shortages due to COVID, including COVID related absenteeism.
"The chicken supply situation continues to deteriorate daily, with businesses in the supply chain experiencing increasing staff shortages and the number of birds unable to be processed growing," Dr Kite said.
"Most major processors are operating with a reduction of up to 50 per cent of their required staff. This is significantly impacting our ability to produce chicken, and particularly to process chickens, and will continue to do so for the immediate future."
The most labour intensive products that were challenging to supply included cut-up, de-boned, skinless, and value-added products, while simpler, less labour-intensive products such as whole chickens should continue to be available, she said.
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