U.K. food sector struggling with worsening supply issues

U.K. food sector struggling with worsening supply issues

From meat to milkshakes, supply issues are hitting the U.K. economy hard and the situation is set to worsen as Christmas approaches.

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat …. but they may not make it to supermarket shelves – at least not in the U.K. The country is suffering extreme labor issues and, what a supermarket manager has described as “the “worst food shortage” he had ever seen.

Another supermarket spokesperson has said that Christmas may have to be “cancelled”, and the problem is not only affecting supermarkets.

Restaurant chain Nando’s is reported to have closed 50 of its outlets, KFC has noted that some of its items and usual packaging materials are unavailable, while McDonald’s is no longer serving bottled drinks or milkshakes in England, Scotland or Wales.

Worsening by the day

In early August, The British Poultry Council revealed that it was facing a significant shortage of workers across farming and processing, with businesses reporting an average vacancy rate of over 16% in their total workforce.

It continued that the alarming number of gaps was continuing to grow due to the effects of Brexit, adding that its members had cut back weekly chicken production by 5-10%, all year round turkey production by 10%, and that Christmas turkey production would be down by 20%, although there was no mention of geese.

So what is behind the far-from, new normal in the U.K.?

While many countries are experiencing shortages of some sort or another due to the impact of COVID-19, in the U.K. the market is also having to come to terms with the new realities of Brexit and the labor shortages that have resulted from this.

It is not simply at production level that food supply is being affected. One supermarket chain has reported that there is currently a shortage of 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers in the UK and that deliveries to 100 of its stores are being cancelled.

25,000 HGV drivers are said to have the left the UK over the last year, many returning to their countries of origin due to COVID-19. Now, it is far harder for them to come back, due to changes in immigration policy since the U.K. left the European Union.

To further complicate matters, as the country has been getting back to work, workers have been suffering from what has been termed the “pingdemic” – phone alerts requiring the receiver to isolate following contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Seeking solutions

So how might the country be able to make up for this shortfall, further exacerbated by it being holiday season and Brits wanting to holiday overseas where they can.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers notes that it has been in contact with former service personnel and has spoken to the Ministry of Justice so see how its members could work with current inmates and ex-offenders. A few of its members already have inmates on release on temporary license and this has proved successful.

However, speaking on behalf of the association, Tony Goodger explained that however, hard it and its members tried, staffing remained a challenge.

Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, has said that, although participation in these schemes is to be encouraged, they should not be seen as a quick fix to current labor problems. He continued that the problems that the industry is facing right now can only addressed properly by, in the short term, temporarily relaxing post-Brexit immigration rules.

The U.K meat industry is calling on the government to introduce a 12-month COVID-19 Recovery Visa to address the immediate crisis and to also revisit the Shortage Occupation List, adding to it skilled workers such as butchers and HGV drivers. It notes that, currently ballet dancers and artists are on the list!

If food is to reach the supermarket shelves – and remain affordable – that might be the best solution, however the U.K. continues to want favor the domestic labor force. Without change, a trip to the ballet might be a Christmas option, but otherwise it might be somewhat of a lean affair, and expensive too!

There are reports that some companies are now offering a GBP1,000 (US$1,400) joining bonus for new recruits, while in some sectors wages have risen by 30%. These additional costs will, at some point have to be passed on to consumers if businesses are to survive.


Solar energy gets a foothold in Latin American poultry

Solar energy gets a foothold in Latin American poultry

Cargill announced solar energy investments in Colombia and Honduras, joining and growing the Latin American poultry industry’s .

I certainly do not like hearing “fluff” around sustainable poultry production, but when I see actual steps being taken in some beneficial way, it is truly recomforting. Sustainability is based on the principles of being efficient through nutrition, genetics, management and many other aspects. However, I think that shifting to alternative energy sources is one good step beyond.

In the last few days, Cargill – a top 10 poultry company in Latin America – has announced two solar energy projects in the region: one in Colombia and one in Honduras. The Colombian project, located in the west side of the country, is for a poultry processing facility, in conjunction with the renewable energy firm Celsia. The plant processes 180,000 birds a day and solar panels supply 100% of energy needs during solar times (at night they use regular electricity). Every megawatt produced in the Celsia facility for Cargill avoids releasing 640 metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere or planting 106,136 trees.

On the other hand, the Cargill Honduran solar energy project has been installed in a hatchery in the northwest part of the country. This same hatchery has been awarded in February 2021 with the PBECC, a combined public-private environmental recognition of Honduras. It will provide 34% of their needs, which means a reduction of 417 metric tons of CO2 per year or 47.3 hectares of woodland.

This shows, in a way, the commitment of Cargill with alternative energy sources and sustainability in the region, as well as the intention to use solar or alternative energies wherever possible.

Evidently – I should also mention – there are other companies working on this. In the last two years we reported that in Honduras, as well, Alimentos CMI (another top 10 in Latin America) started a solar energy project, Grupo Campestre in El Salvador was building a biogas facility, and the Spanish company REA Solar installed solar panels in Panamanian poultry companies.

At the moment, these are news, but I hope we reach a time in which no longer this will hit the headlines, because they will be everywhere. On the same token, the poultry industry needs to capitalize on these news items. We are becoming more sustainable, step by step. Aren’t we?

What do you think?

Chicken industry consolidation continues

Chicken industry consolidation continues
Raw butchered chicken in queue meat chicken

In August 2020, a joint venture of Cargill and Continental Grain Co. (Conti) announced its intent to purchase Sanderson Farms Inc. for $4.53 billion. The deal would make Wayne Farms LLC (a Conti subsidiary) the third-largest chicken company in the United States and one of the largest in the world.

A new rival to the big two

The Sanderson-Wayne company would have processed 14.5% of the 984.74 million pounds of ready-to-cook (RTC) chicken processed by the top 32 broiler companies covered in WATT Global Media’s annual industry rankings in 2020. The new big three of Tyson Foods Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. and Sanderson-Wayne would have handled 41.8% of domestic production. 

This move grows Conti’s sizable international food portfolio and gives Cargill, already a major player in turkey and beef production, a relatively large position in the chicken industry, too. 

Growth through acquisition

The transaction also follows with the wider poultry industry trend of consolidation. In the past three decades, the industry narrowed from smaller, regional producers to large, national and international companies. Armed with capital and hungry for growth, larger companies purchase smaller ones and expand operations.

According to WATT Global Media data, 46 companies included in WATT PoultryUSA’s top broiler companies produced 581.7 million pounds of RTC chicken on a weekly basis. In 2020, 32 companies processed 69.3% more chicken. 

A regulatory question

I believe consolidation will continue as far into the future as U.S. regulators allow it to happen. In the modern history of the U.S., governments passed through cycles of laissez-faire attitudes toward big business and crusades to break monopolies. 

In recent decades, regulators were relatively lax toward mergers and acquisitions focusing power in major industries. This suggests one day we could see the political pendulum swing back the other way if voters become concerned about broader consolidation in corporate America. 

Eggs’ unique qualities benefit consumers of all ages

Eggs' unique qualities benefit consumers of all ages

Eggs can be bring specific benefits to consumers of all ages and ever more are being produced

As one of the best quality and most affordable sources of animal proteins, eggs make a major contribution to feeding our growing world population from infancy through to retirement.

Since 2000, the global production of eggs has risen from 51.12 million metric tons (MT) to 83.48 million MT, an increase of 63.3%, far outpacing global population growth (+25.6%) over the period.  

Annual egg consumption at global level increased over 20 years by about 2.5 kg, or an additional 42 eggs per person, reaching the global average annual consumption of 180 eggs per person.  

 Growth has not been uniform across the globe, however. In Colombia, since 2000, egg production has increased by 123% while the country’s population grew by only by 29%, resulting in an additional 127 eggs per person per year. For the same 20-year-period, Ethiopia was able to provide just for one extra egg per person.

 While for many years eggs were not recommended for young infants due to the risks of allergy, in 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended providing allergenic foods, such as eggs, as early as 4-6 months of age. Given the great nutritional of eggs and their ease of consumption for children, this new advice was surely welcome news for young parents.  

 Stages of life with higher nutritional need, such as pregnancy, lactation or fighting diseases, are also critical times when the provision of sufficient essential amino-acids (the protein building blocks that we must have in our diet) are essential.  

Eggs should be one of the foods of choice, especially if these eggs are also enriched in, for example, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E or other minerals. Body builders and fitness fanatics are also well aware of the benefits of eggs, with more and more evidence showing that consuming protein before and after a workout will stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Protein synthesis becomes critical during the aging process when sarcopenia looms upon us, producing the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality, and strength. 

Although sarcopenia is dependent on a number of factors, the bio-availability of sufficient proteins in our diet is one of the means to manage this age-related muscle loss. Since older adults do not utilize proteins as efficiently as younger individuals, the quality and quantity of proteins consumed become more important than ever to prevent muscle atrophy. Thanks to a number of innovations recently introduced by the egg processing sector, seniors have many more options to consume more egg white proteins, being it in a pasteurized drink, egg white wraps or other types of convenient finger foods.

Indeed, an egg works for all ages!


The significance of the ribeye scandal in Spain

The significance of the ribeye scandal in Spain

Recommending reduction of red meat consumption and declaring that you actually enjoy eating red meat has created a whirlwind of nonsense in Spain.

Pedro Sánchez, president of the Spanish government, said last week in Lithuania his now famous sentence: “Wherever they put a ribeye cooked right, that’s unbeatable,” criticizing the recommendation of one of his ministers of reducing red meat consumption, while at the same supporting meat producers.

A sentence that could be either scathing or simply of personal preference has created a whirlwind for both – people in favor of reducing consumption or even eliminating animal agriculture, and people in favor of continuing to produce meat. That’s not to mention politicians, from left, right, up, or down. It is shameful that it has been used as a political weapon just before the whole administration has been changed. All have leveraged from it and just added more fuel to the fire.

Although no one talked about prohibiting meat production and/or consumption, or to keep on carelessly producing it, there seems to be no consensus and planning. Likewise, the problem that I find here is the fact that when people discuss animal agriculture, it includes all, even broilers and eggs! And in their minds, the bad guys are all producers of animals, whether they are hens or cattle.

From the sustainability point of view, we all know the differences between producing a kilo of red meat and a kilo of chicken or eggs. Should we start separating poultry from the general “livestock production” term? Should we also be more sensitive to the contributions of livestock producers to a country? Shouldn’t a balance between environment, health, economy, society, and future be reached?

From the health side, some say Spain has somehow deviated from the original Mediterranean diet, consuming less vegetables, legumes, fish, and other foods, while increasing meat consumption. This together with a concern with the planet originated the recommendation. Still, at the same time, Spain has one of the best life expectancies in the world. 

In addition to the nonsense political arguments, all this brings to my mind the disparity of focus in the world. While some countries are pushing to decrease meat/animal protein consumption, other countries are pushing to increase it. Let us keep in mind that “there are worse risks than a fatty steak or a couple of fried eggs from a hen in a cage: the danger of death for not having nothing to eat, whether from a cow or a hen,” said a Spanish columnist.

What do you think?


Will alternative proteins capture 10% of the market soon?

Will alternative proteins capture 10% of the market soon?

Alternative proteins may capture a significant portion of the overall protein market soon.

A $240 billion market?

I recently returned to the road, after the long COVID-19 break, and attended the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council’s Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 24, 2021. The event featured a presentation by Caroline Bushnell, the Good Food Institute’s vice president of corporate engagement, on the future of the alternative protein market.

As part of her speech, Bushnell examined analysts’ expectations on the size of the alternative protein market in the coming years. Estimates varied but there was a general sense the alternative protein market will constitute about 10% of the global protein market within the next 20 years. That translates to between $240 billion to $290 billion.

What are alternative proteins?

Bushnell’s assessment of the current and future alternative protein market included three areas: plant-based proteins, fermented proteins and cultivated proteins. Plant-based proteins are the traditional alternative, while fermented proteins – products typically focused on replacing dairy products – and cultivated proteins – formerly known as cell-based, or lab-grown proteins which aim to replace meat – are the relatively new entries. 

The Good Food Institute (GFI) is a Washington-based technology accelerator focused on advancing the alternative protein sectors. It is a non-profit organization which helps researchers and start-ups in the space find funding while providing some research funding, too. The organization is critical of animal agriculture. Its website says: “Current meat production is unsustainable and inefficient. It is a key driver of climate change, environmental degradation, and antibiotic-resistant disease.”

Comparing alternative and animal protein sales 

To compare the estimated size of the market with the current situation, I asked Bushnell to compare the present sales of alternative proteins with those of animal proteins. She said that plant-based protein sales currently constitute about 1.4% of the current market in the U.S. She also said GFI’s projections indicate plant-based proteins make up about 1% of global protein sales.

“It’s still small, it’s definitely still early days,” Bushnell said. “But what I think what the industry is looking towards is more like what plant-based milk has achieved, which is 15% of all milk sales in U.S. retail.”

In her presentation, she said the total U.S. plant-based food market was worth $7 billion in 2020, an increase of 42.8% from the $4.9 billion in 2018.

Looking toward the future 

According to consumer research from Mintel, more U.S. shoppers say they have tried plant-based meat (48% in 2020 versus 13% in 2019), they are eating more plant-based meat than they did in the past and they are planning on eating more plant-based meat in the future.

Moreover, consumer interest in these products is higher in China, India, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Malaysia, Canada, Argentina and Australia than it is in the U.S. Bushnell was most optimistic about the prospects for plant-based products in East Asia and Brazil. She pointed to restauranteurs and foodservice providers expanding plant-based options in those regions. 

On the cultivated meat side of the equation, Bushnell said the technology is making rapid advances thanks to strong funding for its research. One company, Eat Just, has already launched a cultivated chicken product in Singapore, she said. 

Upside Foods, formerly known as Memphis Meats, plans on launching a chicken replacement product by the end of 2021. By 2025, GFI believes cultivated meat products will reach regulatory approval in numerous regions and achieve a cost reduction between 10 to 100 times the current price. By 2030, it believes operational industrial-scale facilities will exist and that price parity may exist for some products. 

A moment of ubiquity? 

I also asked how soon Americans might be able to buy a cultivated meat product from grocers. 

“It’s probably going to be a while before you can buy it,” Bushnell said. “Right now, the costs are high.”

“These first products that we market will be premium priced. They will likely be in limited quantities and we’re likely to see a route to market that starts more in foodservice at premium pricing before they’re able to get the scale up to come to retail supermarkets.”

Nevertheless, I believe the chicken industry and all of animal agriculture should continue to monitor the development of alternative proteins. Right now, some integrators and major food companies are taking a non-combative approach toward the issue by launching products which mix plant-based proteins with chicken or another animal protein to appeal to flexitarians. 

The prevailing thought, it seems, is alternative proteins are an “and” not an “or” issue. I am not so sure about that. We shouldn’t forget the ultimate mission of these products is to replace animal agriculture which they view as either inefficient or immoral. These replacements are getting more sophisticated and they are coming to a grocer near you. The industry needs to take the threat they pose seriously. 


Goodbye COVID, hello cybercrime

Goodbye COVID, hello cybercrime

The poultry industry must prepare for the growing threat posed by ransomware..

Now that the threat of COVID-19 is fading, the U.S. poultry industry must turn its attention to the urgent threat posed by emboldened cybercriminals. 

In the past few months, sophisticated cybercriminals – or groups of highly skilled and organized hackers that may be sponsored by hostile nations – caused chaos in regions of the U.S. by disrupting critical energy infrastructure. The threat hit closer to home for the poultry industry when JBS, the world’s largest meat company and owner of Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., was hacked. 


These attacks bring major financial costs. Increasingly, hackers are utilizing ransomware. This malware locks users out of their network, or threatens to destroy critical data or other assets, unless a ransom is paid to the hackers. JBS reportedly paid $11 million when it was attacked in May 2021. This direct payment will only add to losses caused by disruption of the company’s meat processing operations. 

Getting a quick, large payday buoys hackers and incentivizes them to prey on others they perceive as easy targets. The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more workers out of the office, putting more information on potentially vulnerable devices and internet connections, which is facilitating entry into networks. State-sponsored groups, if they indeed exist, are looking to attack America’s energy, water and food supply chains as part of a cyberwarfare campaign.

Don’t be a victim

The JBS hack should serve as a stern warning for all in the poultry industry and in agriculture. Governments, law enforcement and technology companies can only do so much to slow or stop cybercrime. Ultimately, it is up to the individual companies to protect their networks from nefarious actors. 

Cybersecurity is a complex world. Hackers have hundreds of ways to sneak into a network and hold operations hostage. If the company does not already have an information technology operation capable of securing the enterprise from modern threats, it should find expert, outside help. Professional firms can assess the state of the network’s defense and boost overall security. It is worth spending the money to protect the company, the brand and public confidence in the security of the food supply chain.

Smaller steps can make a big difference, too. Management should learn about best practices for cybersecurity – like keeping software updated, using strong passwords changed frequently and multi-step authentication, backing up data frequently and using anti-virus software – and educate their employees on their role in the organization’s cybersecurity. Moreover, companies need to plan how to respond if they are attacked and be ready to keep operating, or quickly resume operations, after an assault.


Did you know eggs rank low in greenhouse gas emissions?

Did you know eggs rank low in greenhouse gas emissions?

Producing eggs is far less detrimental to the environment than many would think, which we need to emphasize.

On the occasion of the World Environment Day on June 5, it came to my attention through a press release from CAPIA – the Argentine Egg Producers Association – that eggs are considered as a low-impact food on greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein together with a medium retail price, also per gram of protein. The World Resources Institute (WRI) has a scorecard that ranks foods as low, medium and high impact. And yes! Eggs rank low, together with several vegetable-origin foods and fish. Meanwhile, in the medium range, first chicken and then pork, come remarkably close, also at a medium retail price.

Honestly, I did not know of this scorecard, apparently published in 2016 by the WRI. The information is interesting and simple to understand. Argentina’s egg association refers of it, praising its egg producers for contributing to a sustainable food production system, in cages, by the way. As a matter of fact, last week I blogged about the Latin American position against cages at the OIE.

Taking the celebration of the World Environment Day is another “excuse” to show the general public what is their contribution to the society. Producing eggs has almost the same effect on the environment as producing nuts, soybeans or rice, and far much less than other food products. This is exactly what we need to do. Let’s shout out about the good things.

We need to show this, not only to the general public, but also to certain legislators, like those in the state of Nevada in the U.S., that praise the animal rights groups to impose a cage-free law in all of the state. “They recognize and support to egg industry moving in this direction” (sic), so they “will prevent large-scale producers of eggs and egg products from thinking they can escape those regulations by moving their operations to Nevada.” 

I wonder ─ where do they leave the impact on the environment? And welfare? And retail price for the consumer?

Let’s talk about the good things against fallacious arguments.

What do you think?


Eggs offer more than nutritional benefits to toddlers

Cooking eggs helps toddlers with developing their 5 senses.

The newly released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include recommendations for birth to 24 months old and specifically recommend eggs as an important first food for infants and toddlers, as well as for pregnant women and lactating moms.

The new guidelines confirm that eggs provide several key nutrients important for babies during the time in which their brains are rapidly developing. The guidelines emphasize the importance of choline, a nutrient in eggs. Just one large egg provides the daily choline needs for babies and toddlers, and two large eggs provide more than half of daily choline needs for pregnant moms. Additionally, early introduction of eggs may also assist in reducing the risk of developing an egg allergy.

But do they offer other benefits outside of those that are nutritional? The answer is yes.

Lately my son has been obsessed with the idea of cooking eggs, not because he wants to eat them all the time, but he loves the process. As a mom, I do too.

Of course, I supervise but when I allow him to crack eggs, dump them into a pan and then watch as I stir them it helps develop his five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch). Penn State Extension would agree, according to its website, “Eating and preparing foods can be a great sensory experience for children and a fun learning opportunity.”

While cooking the eggs, my little guy makes a point of telling me the pan is empty, the shell is whole and that we still need to grease the pan. He can see that I will eventually cook them and that when they are done, I melt cheese on top.

He can hear the eggs crack against the bowl and enjoys imitating the sound of them sizzling in the pan, while he occasionally gets to help stir them in the bowl, I do most of that myself.

I think the touch aspect is probably self-explanatory, but just image the sweetest little boy voice saying, “Momma, feel the edges, I cracked it.”

I always laugh when he says, “Mmm, momma that smells good,” as the cheese melts.

The best part is always the end, when he eats the eggs, with an adult fork because he is clearly not a baby anymore, just ask him.

“By letting children learn about foods and help prepare foods, they may be more willing to try new foods,” Penn State Extension site said.

I think the industry should be really excited about not only the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but also, the idea of educating moms about the sensory benefits young children can gain from cooking eggs with their parents.


How will eating change after COVID-19?

How will eating change after COVID-19?

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic may be in sight in the United States. Multiple effective vaccines will be available to most Americans by the middle of 2021. As many as 90% may be vaccinated by the end of July 2021.

In this issue of WATT PoultryUSA, you’ll read about how the industry may fare in a post-pandemic world. One important change integrators need to consider is how consumer behaviors may permanently change after the pandemic.

More working from home

COVID-19 closed offices for extended periods. This proved many office jobs can be done remotely and forced consumers who previously dined out daily to eat at home or close to home.

Federal estimates show the number of people working from home will triple in the coming year as attitudes about remote work change. Moreover, some offices will move forward with a hybrid approach with workers splitting time between the office and their homes.

Chris DuBois, senior vice president at IRI leading the company’s protein practice, estimated more than 30 million meals daily will be eaten at home, or close to home, rather than at company cafeterias or urban eateries.

Different cooking techniques

DuBois also noted the average American had to become a more effective cook in 2020. Many consumers found new confidence in the kitchen and discovered they could make restaurant quality meals for much less at home.

During this period, they also tried new cuts of meat and cooking appliances. Air fryers and multicookers, like the Instant Pot, are now a fixture in many American homes. Additionally, shoppers branched out and tried different cuts of meat, DuBois said, as they became more confident chefs.

Going forward, poultry companies will need adjust their plans to serve a consumer that’s spending more time at home and willing to try new things in the kitchen. Product innovation will be key.