There Might Soon Be A Poultry Shortage. Here's Why

Chicken is far and away the most popular poultry, and also the most consumed protein generally, so this headline may certainly spook you a bit. There actually is currently a wing shortage — and the rest of the bird may not be too far behind.

The abundance of uber-popular chicken sandwiches at chains like Popeyes and KFC, coupled with the pressures put on the chicken industry due to COVID-19, along with the industry's myriad ethical issues, has created a deficit of the highly-desired fowl in the US. The Washington Post notes that other chains, from Bojangles to Wingstop, are reporting via social media that their chicken inventory (especially wings) is exponentially lower than usual. Bloomberg says that KFC's chicken sales specifically grew 14% this past quarter, primarily due to demand because of its new featured chicken sandwich. National Chicken Council states that total wing sales increased 10.3% in 2020, with in-store frozen wings selling 37.2% (!) higher than the year prior.

What is causing the shortage?

The primary issue is almost certainly staffing, as many the chicken processing companies are struggling to hire, perhaps due to the problematic and unsafe working condition which have been oft profiled in the media in recent years. In addition, The Washington Post also acknowledges that many chicken processing plants were "virus hotspots," disproportionately affecting many of the people of color who were working in the chicken plants. There are also many animal welfare concerns in regards to how the chickens are raised — "cage-free" doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does.

Another potential source of extreme demand is the increase of takeout and delivery over the past 14+ months, while a separate prediction notes that chicken sales may increase even further as the weather warms and people begin to grill and barbecue outdoors.

Bloomberg further states that Beyond Meat is now also looking to launch a plant-based "chicken" product later this year. Could that potentially help to assuage the demand and the pressures currently being faced by the chicken industry? Only time will tell.