The coronavirus is impacting the beef industry at the supply chain level as well as in retail. The current shortage of beef caused by the closure of processing plants amid coronavirus has resulted in nearly doubled prices.
Chicken wing suppliers are having an easier time of it. With people homebound in states with shelter-in-place orders and lockdowns, chicken has become an alternative to meats made rare by the pandemic. Wingstop CEO Charles Morrisson told Fox Business that the chicken wing stockpile is holding up well during this unprecedented shakeup.
Morrisson also told Fox Business that the short growth cycle of chickens is “comforting” and that there is a large enough number of vendors to allow for flexibility in the supply. The growth cycle of chickens from egg to adult is between six and eight weeks, where they reach five to six pounds and are ready for slaughter.
Beef takes much longer to raise, and reaches maturity around 18-22 months. At this point, the brisket supply chain is waiting for processing plants to reopen, as cattle wait to be slaughtered and eat up ranchers’ feed supply in the meantime.
To put into perspective the degree to which restaurants offering takeout and delivery have seen an increase in demand, the pre-pandemic share of Wingstop delivery sales was 80%. Increased demand for takeout orders caused that number to rise by 47%.
The bottleneck at meat processing plants and the increase in demand for meat of all kinds has left the fate of briskets hanging in the balance. According to Texas Monthly, briskets are also on the chopping block to be ground in order to satisfy demand for drive-thru hamburgers as sit-down restaurants remain closed in some states.
Ultimately, this leaves those raising the cattle with the short end: They’re continuing to feed animals that will not grow anymore and that will not be bought by meatpackers for at least several months.
But prices have risen. As Texas Monthly noted on May 8, the price of whole Choice briskets was $2.80 per pound in late April. By early May, those prices had skyrocketed to between $5.46 and $6.50 per pound. Other grocery prices have steadily increased as well, but dairy farmers have had to dump milk because of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Fox Business reported that wing prices dropped from about $1.60 per pound to about $1.30 per pound during the pandemic. In part, that could be blamed on the lack of an NCAA basketball tournament in 2020.
While President Trump has named meat processing plants essential under the Defense Production Act to keep them open, plants with employees who test positive must close.