One of the most popular fast food companies in the US has reported beef shortages as slaughterhouses across the country are shut during the coronavirus lockdown.
Some Wendy’s restaurants have temporarily pulled burgers from their menus, with more than 1,000 outfits – about 18% of its US sites – reportedly being affected by disruption to the supply chain.
And retailers Kroger and Costco have also been hit as they limit the sales of some meat items.
The US and Canada are among the world’s biggest beef exporters.
But COVID-19 outbreaks have forced meat-packing plants to temporarily close or slow production, as they try to ensure worker safety.
Ryan Kasko, chairman of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, estimates there are up to 80,000 Canadian cattle
awaiting slaughter, and the number may reach 250,000 by July.
Signs inform customers of the disruption
Leighton Kolk, who normally sends 500 cattle to slaughter per week, said: “It’s a horrible situation for us to watch.”
Mr Kolk, from Iron Springs, Alberta, added: “The consumer is going to pay a huge price and we could approach financial insolvency because these animals are dropping in value.”
The average unit price of fresh beef at US retailers was 6% higher in the week ending 25 April than a year earlier, according to market research firm Nielsen.
Chief executive of Wendy’s, Todd Penegor, said: “From time to time, there could be some items that we’re out of stock on.
“It’s probably a couple of weeks of challenging tightness that we’ll have to work through.”
:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
Victor Colello, director of meat and fish at New York City grocery chain Morton Williams, said he has not had any trouble getting meat but that “prices are crazy”.
“In the past two weeks, prices have gone up anywhere from $3 to $5 per pound. I find myself changing prices every two or three days.”
Production at some slaughterhouses has resumed after weeks-long shutdowns.
Canada and the United States have both announced aid packages for the food and agriculture sectors.
But Alberta rancher Kelly Smith-Fraser sees a long crisis ahead.
Price estimates for the calves she will sell in the autumn are less than half of the usual price, as the people who buy them deal with large backlogs of cattle.
“Each day we are on pins and needles to make sure those plants stay open.”